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How Foam Rolling Works

We break down how foam rolling works and the many unique benefits. Find out more today to help you live your best life.

Living a healthy lifestyle is important to most people. Whether you run, lift weights, or cycle, foam rolling has been touted as something you should add to your routine by friends, magazines, and plenty others. The fans of foam rolling will tell you the act has benefits such as loosening up tight muscles so you can warm up before a workout or stretch after one. What is foam rolling exactly? Let’s take a look at how for a better understanding of this fitness trend.

foam rollers

What is it?
Before we consider how foam rolling works, we need to be clear about what it is. Foam rolling is using a rounded foam cylinder, with or without ridges on the surface, by placing it under the legs, back, or other areas of the body, and then using body weight combined with motion to roll back and forth over the foam roller. Foam rollers come in all sorts of sizes and colors. While some have a raised surface with ridges or grooves to work out tightness in a firmer way, others are smooth on the surface.

How does it work?
When it comes to how foam rolling works, there is a lot still unknown about the act. While anyone regularly using a foam roller will tell you they feel better after, they probably can’t tell you why they feel better. It is loosely defined as relaxing tight muscles or warming up muscles. What does that really mean? While a lot is unknown about foam rolling, there is a lot known about the human body to balance it out. One of the most popular theories of how foam rolling works is related to fascia. The fascia is a thin layer of tissue under the skin surrounding the muscles. Fascia encases the outside of the muscle with additional layers inside the muscle wrapped around areas such as muscle fibers or cells. Fascia is stiff but should move without pain. Pain and tightness occur when fascia meets friction, either through muscle tears or injuries. Foam rolling is believed to loosen up the fascia, both the layer on the outside of the muscle and the muscle fibers, so it can move more easily without creating friction. This results in the feeling of your muscles being looser rather than tight.

Another common belief about how foam rolling works is that it warms up the muscles, literally. Many people use foam rolling to warm up their muscles before a workout. They may be doing just that as the friction of the movement creates heat to warm up the muscle and fascia. Foam rolling is also believed to help with recovery because the motion and pressure gets the blood flowing to the muscles so it can start the recovery process.

Benefits of Foam Rolling
Now that you know what it is and how it works, we can take a look at the benefits of foam rolling.

Loosens up tight, stiff muscles.
Foam rolling loosens up muscles so you feel less stiffness. If you have ever experienced stiffness, you already know how much of a benefit this can be for your muscles. This loosening up of stiff muscles in turn creates better flexibility and ease of movement.

Helps form the healthy habit of stretching after a workout.
Stretching after a workout, especially a rigorous one, is important for recovery and avoiding injury. The sad fact is that many people skip this step because they aren’t comfortable with stretching or they downplay the importance of it. Foam rolling is an easy way to get in the habit of stretching and the benefits are felt after the first use when done properly.

Warms up muscles before a workout.
When you workout without a warmup, you are more prone to injuries. This is especially true for exercise like running where the muscles in the legs do the brunt of the work. Foam rolling warms up and loosens these muscles so they are ready to go for even an intense workout.

May improve workout performance.
When your muscles aren’t tight and stiff, they perform better, and you are able to push a little bit harder. This could be the difference between running your average pace and beating your personal record. It isn’t just a benefit for runners. Doing just about any form of exercise with loosened muscles may improve performance.

Allows you to target the right areas.
Another benefit of foam rolling is that you can choose to target one particular area. If your calves feel extra tight, you can spend extra time rolling them and less time on your thigh muscles if they feel fine. Since different workouts target different muscle groups, it makes sense that you will occasionally have one area that is tighter than the others. Foam rolling is the perfect option for focusing on those areas in need of a little extra TLC after a workout.

Helps speed up recovery.
Foam rolling relaxes the muscles and improves blood flow which in turns makes it easier for the muscles to repair themselves. When you work out, you are actually causing small tears in the muscle which need to be repaired. This is what causes the soreness after a good workout session. The improved blood flow from foam rolling helps speed up the recovery process so you are ready for your next workout without as much soreness in between.

Increases relaxation.
When muscles are tight, you feel stressed. If you have ever had a massage, you already know how relaxed you feel after working out all that tension in the muscles. While foam rolling isn’t as effective as a massage, it will give you a similar feeling of relaxation when you are done because the muscles will be loose and warm. This makes it a great way to unwind after an intense workout session or just after a long day when you need something calming.

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