Whether you are new to working out or have had a dedicated practice for years, sometimes fitting in time to exercise can be challenging. Finding time for recovery on top of that can be almost impossible. Enter the foam roller. For those wondering what those firm colourful logs in the corner of the gym are, foam rollers can be used to improve circulation, which helps the body to get ready for a workout and helps it recover as well as improve flexibility. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, foam rolling before exercise leads to less fatigue afterward. Many gyms offer entire classes dedicated to rolling out the body.
While recovery activities may seem like a distraction from your actual workout, they can help you perform better. The foam roller is the recovery tool of choice for many physiotherapists, personal trainers and gyms. Researchers in Canada and Japan have found that foam rolling stimulates the central nervous system which registers and reacts to pain in addition to regulating heart rate and blood flow.
According to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami foam rolling is similar to massage in that it stimulates pressure receptors beneath your skin. According to Field, “When you stimulate those pressure receptors, that stimulation increases vagal activity in the brain, which has been linked to relaxation of the nervous system, reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol and improved pain tolerance,”.
Foam rolling is an easy activity to do at home while watching tv or as a pick-me-up first thing in the morning. Available at most sporting good stores, before you hand over your credit card for a roller in your favourite colour, do note that all foam rollers are not created equal. White rollers – typically 3 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, are the least dense and feel most gentle to work with. From there, the density progresses from blue to black. Models with grids and studs offer serious pressure for a more intense rolling session.
Once you determine which body part you would like to work on, roll back and forth across the muscle 20 times. Certain spots may feel more uncomfortable than others, but do stop if you feel pain.
To roll smaller areas – feet, for example, start with a tennis ball and then work your way up to a smaller, denser lacrosse ball.
Here’s a great video to get you started:
Tiffany Field quote – Time Magazine, Feb 1, 2017