All your questions about using a foam roller, answers Andrew Valdivia
Training is hard enough. Do we to have add a foam roll – which can often be pretty damn painful – to the mix? The short answer is yes. If you exercise regularly, whether it’s running, lifting weights, or playing sports, you know tight hamstrings, sore muscles, and stubborn knots. Foam rolling can help solve all of these problems, if you do it correctly and regularly. We spoke to Dr. Umran Sayed, physical therapist, soft tissue therapist, and strength and conditioning coach, to answer all your questions about the self-massage technique.
If your foam roller has been sitting in a corner collecting dust, we hope this article inspires you to put it to good use.
GQ: What is foam rolling? Who should practice it?
Dr. Umran Sayed: Foam rolling is a form of manual therapy, often referred to as self-myofascial release. Foam rollers are thought to damage muscles and fascia. The central concept around auto-myofascial release is called thixotropy, where the gel temporarily transitions to a fluid state after a wave of shear stress has impacted it. Another theory regarding foam rolling is that it impacts the Golgi tendon organ, which is a musculotendinous mechanoreceptor that senses tension. Foam rolling applies pressure to the muscles which induces more changes in length and tension.
Foam rolling is generally considered safe for people who exercise regularly and for anyone with muscle stiffness.
GQ: Why is it important to use a foam roller before/after a workout? What are the advantages ?
Dr. Sayed: Foam rolling has become a common modality in gyms and with its growing popularity there have been more and more recommendations as well as myths about it. Some of the purported benefits of foam rolling are increased mobility, range of motion, and reduced muscle soreness. These have been backed up by various studies.
Foam rolling has positive effects both before and after training. It’s entirely on the individual if they want to do it before or after. It can definitely be a good injury reduction tool if combined with a proper warm-up, dynamic stretching routine, and cool-down.
GQ: What’s the right way to foam roll?
Dr. Sayed: Use foam rolling to target specific tight areas rather than foam rolling all over your body. Always start with light pressure and increase the pressure as you get more comfortable over time. The easiest way to reduce or adjust pressure is to reduce the amount of body weight you put on the roller. For example, if you are rolling your back, use your legs to help support your body and take some of your body weight off the roll.
Slowly roll tender areas for 10 seconds to start, then work up to rolling for 30-60 seconds at a time. Drink plenty of water after riding with foam to aid recovery.
GQ: What are the different types of foam rollers and what should each be used for?