Have you ever heard of a foam roller? To the uninitiated, this is a cylinder roughly six inches in diameter, anywhere from 12 to 36 inches long, and made of synthetic materials varying in hardness. It’s a curious object to an unknowing person — it either looks useless, or like it could be used for almost anything. To those in the know, however, a foam roller is a very important piece of the fitness puzzle, and it has a very specific job: to take care of your muscles. Using a foam roller is called rolling out, which describes the system of applying pressure to the muscles, specifically the body’s myofascial system. This releases the “knots” in muscles that have been used a lot during exercise or in repeated everyday movements.

What Rolling Out with a Foam Roller Can Do For You

Whether you exercise vigorously or not, rolling out is something you should consider doing. This type of self-performed soft tissue therapy can warm and stretch your muscles, increase flexibility, prevent injury, encourage blood flow, ease muscle soreness, smooth your skin, boost your resting metabolic rate, improve future athletic performance, and the list goes on and on and on.

I used to think foam rollers were for serious athletes only. You know, the kind who are a bit extreme when it comes to looking for the next big thing that will give them an edge over their competition. I had watched my sister — who’s done organized sports her whole life and who played basketball and ran track for our high school — use a foam roller, and it always looked kind of intimidating.

But after I recently started running, my sister talked me into trying it and showed me how. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about foam rollers. Not only are they incredibly useful, they’re also nothing to be intimidated by. In fact, rolling out is the next best thing to receiving a sports massage post-workout (and a whole lot cheaper, too).

The process involves rolling a part of your body back and forth over the roller to massage the muscles. For example, to roll out your quadriceps (the tops of your thighs), you would lie, face down, on the floor with the roller under your quadriceps, support your upper body on your forearms and allow the weight of your legs to rest on the roller. Then slowly roll yourself forward and backward over the roller, massaging your legs.

The art of rolling out is best demonstrated, so I won’t attempt to go into more detail here. Instead, I recommend you find someone who can show you how to do it — a sports therapist, experienced friend, or other qualified individual. But here are some things to remember:

  • Go slowly. You’ll get the most benefit out of it if you really give the fascia time to thoroughly release.
  • Do not apply pressure to bones or joints.
  • If you find a spot that’s “knotted,” spend a few extra seconds there, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Rolling out helps me eliminate muscle soreness after an intense workout, but first-time rollers can expect some soreness from stretching muscle fibers that aren’t used to it or from releasing knots that have built up over a long time.

My roller is 18 inches long and cost me less than $20, but you can find ones in various lengths and materials, and at different price points. Do some research or ask someone who’s already a “rolling out pro” to recommend a good one.

Image via Carlos Almendarez on Flickr


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