Let’s Roll

The foam roller made it’s debut in the mid 90′s.  At that time, most health and fitness professionals didn’t have a clue what to do with the 3 foot long piece of foam, but now you can find one in just about every fitness facility.  In fact, there are many different kinds to choose from,  with different sizes, textures, and densities.  Physical Therapist Mike Clark is credited for introducing the foam roller to the health and fitness world.  A foam roller can be an extremely useful tool in your workout program.  It can be used for self-myofascial release (SMR), which can help restore muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and improve soft tissue extensability.  Evidence of these positive benefits have been stacking up.

A couple of recent studies have come out showing why you may want to make this foam cylinder your new workout buddy. A very recent study out of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) showed that even though foam rolling before athletic tests did not enhance performance, it helped reduce muscle fatigue which could allow someone to train longer and with increased volume.  Another study out of the American College of Sports Medicine’s monthly journal concluded that foam rolling decreased soreness while improving force production, muscle activation, and range of motion.  These benefits were attained through neural responses and connective tissue.   Macdonald and Colleagues also revealed a study that showed an acute bout of SMR of the quadriceps is effective in improving knee joint range of motion without reducing muscle performance.  It’s pretty obvious that foam rolling has excellent physical and neural benefits, but one more study showed that it goes even beyond those.  In the January 2014 edition of the JSCR, a study indicated that foam rolling reduced arterial stiffness and improved blood vessel function.

Here is one way that I incorporate the foam roller into my client’s workouts but it’s by no means the only way.  I choose specific areas for them to focus on according to what I see in their assessment and I also encourage them to use the roller on any other areas of tightness.  I have them spend about 30 seconds on each area of concern.  I have them begin with long rolls and if they find those extra tight spots (trigger points) they can shorten the rolling motion and spend a little extra time on the tight area.  It’s important to roll over the muscles but not directly on the joints.  I also have them use it for a couple of mobility drills if needed for opening up the chest and increasing mobility in the thoracic spine (upper back).  We don’t have to spend hours on it to make it a part of our program.  We usually spend about 5 minutes tops at the very start of the workout while the client and I check in.

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There you have it, as the research continues to pile up, there seems to be no doubt that foam rolling is a good thing.  Try incorporating it into your everyday routine, or at the beginning of your workouts.  The research shows it helps promote recovery, improve range of motion, and enhance vascular health.  A few minutes a day can make a big impact in the long run.  Next time you are in the gym, grab that cylindrical piece of foam, and get rolling!

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