What's foam rolling and should I be doing it as part of my workout?

We’re glad you asked.

What is it? The technical term for foam rolling is self-myofascial release, the function of which is to lengthen and elongate muscles as well as release tightness.

When used often and correctly, the foam roller can help runners avoid many sport-related injuries.

It’s not a replacement for proper stretching, warming up or cooling down, but can be used as a tool to limit soreness and tightness through increased blood flow and flexibility. If you can’t afford a deep tissue massage, you might consider this very popular and beneficial self-massage option.

How does it work? Exercise induces tiny ‘tears’ and swelling in muscle fibres, which impinge on nerves and blood vessels. Over time, this can develop into and scar tissue and tightness.  Foam rolling helps smooth out these obstructions and break down scar tissue, helping to increase blood-flow within the muscle. Notice how ‘free’ and ‘loose’ your legs feel after 15 minutes on the foam roller.

A foam roller massages muscles intensely, much like a massage from a massage or sports therapist.

There are several different types of foam rollers available from the original foam roller to Trigger Point Therapy to the Rumble Roller. Each roller effectively stretches the muscle out in a similar manner, though the denser the roller or the deeper the ridges on the roller, the more intense the stretch will be.

Who can benefit from it? Its benefits are especially helpful for middle and long-distance runners, who often suffer from tight and fatigued muscles from the repeated pounding on the foot, knee and hip joints. But anyone can benefit from foam rolling – many inter-county players have their own foam rollers, while amateur cyclists, runners, boxers and tennis players have been using them for years.

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How does one benefit from it? Many injuries can be avoided through proper stretching and foam roller use so in this regard the foam roller is better at preventing injury than rehabbing an existing injury. Aside from that it has been proven to better blood circulation, which in turn speeds recovery while also improving flexibility and loosening out any particularly tight areas.

What happens after it After 15 minutes of foam rolling (twice daily if you have the time), you will possibly be a little sore, as you would after a good deep tissue massage. This is good and a sure sign that you’ve foam rolled correctly. Like stretching, foam rolling should be more uncomfortable than painful but provided you drink plenty fluids, get enough sleep and have a good diet your muscles should feel stronger and looser soon after.

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