This is my attempt at presenting a foam rolling routine for the legs that I do often. Foam rolling is a very useful self-treatment if done correctly. It can however also cause a lot of pain if you don’t consider the rationale behind foam rolling. I will try and keep this a brief as possible.
For most people you will need a blue smooth foam roll with a diameter of 15cm and a length of 45cm approximately. The colour denotes the density so don’t be tempted to buy an orange or black one because you like the colour better – they are really hard!
So, what are we doing when we foam roll the muscles. Essentially, I think we a “squashing” the tissue against the underlying tissue and bone. This results in fluid being moved around and hopefully a stretching/relaxing effect on the muscles themselves. It is a form of self-massage and a way to encourage better circulation through the muscle tissue.
Now this is key – by far the easiest way to hurt yourself foam rolling is just doing too much.
Just like you would not have a massage every day you should not foam roll every day. Foam rolling results in a reaction (which is useful) but the body needs time to react and then improve. I would not really foam roll more than twice a week. The second point is, that we want to work on pliable tissue and tissue that responds to being squashed. One of the most popular areas to foam roll is the IT band down the side of the thigh. Personally, I don’t do this and struggle to understand what possible benefit it would create. This is a very fibrous stiff band that essentially helps to protect the knee and hip. It is meant to be stiff. That’s not to say that you can’t get problems here. Runners are prone to IT band issues, but I think stretching it and foam rolling around it - not on it gives much better results. Grinding the IT band directly onto the very hard underlying bone just results in a reaction and pain but no long term benefit.
Another thing to keep in mind when doing any stretching or foam rolling is the effect the right mental attitude can have on the outcome. By engaging consciously with the muscles and trying to relax, through the inevitable discomfort foam rolling will create, you will get much better results. Embrace the discomfort and try and relax into it. Try and consider pain just like any other sensation (light touch, temperature sensation etc) and notice it but don’t panic or unnecessarily give into it.
In my own experience foam rolling can get to muscles in a way that stretching sometimes can’t and complements stretching. It cannot replace stretching.
A quick foot note here – I get asked a lot about recent research suggesting that stretching doesn’t work. I will discuss this in a later post but for now in my opinion this is wrong.
If you head over to YouTube now we can go through my way of foam rolling together.
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