Foam rolling is a common stretching technique that athletes have been doing for years. From track stars to ballerinas, the foam roller is the go-to tool for working out knots and addressing muscle pain. But why should the foam roller be limited to the arenas of sports and dance? Foam rolling is making its way into the everyday workout scene—and for good reason. The firm, foam cylinders make it easy to massage your muscles by using your own body weight to press and roll against them. They can be found at most sporting goods stores and are commonly used in physical therapy sessions. If you’re looking for a good stretch, now’s the time to invest in a foam roller.
But before you get rolling, check out these 4 tips that will leave your muscles limber and loose!
1. The slower the better
When it comes to foam rolling, take a lesson from the tortoise: Slow and steady wins the race. If you roll out too quickly, it’s easy to pass right over the knots in your muscles, while beating up the rest unnecessarily. Start rolling out very slowly and when you come to a sore spot, roll over it in slow, short motions for 60 seconds. This will gradually release the knot without subjecting the rest of your muscles to too much pressure. Slowing your pace helps to target specific areas.
Try the quad roll out: Lie on top of your foam roller facing the ground with the roller under your thighs. Use your arms to roll back and forth, moving on top of the roller from your hips to your knees. If you have sore areas, target them specifically. If not, roll out your entire upper leg for 60 seconds.
2. It boosts your circulation
Foam rolling works as a sports massage without the costly expense of a trainer. Like any massage, the pressure of the roller improves your circulation by stimulating blood flow to your soft tissues. This means that more oxygen is delivered to the rolled out area, which has a healing effect on tender muscles and injuries.
Try the hamstring roll out: Sit on top of the foam roller with the roller under the base of one thigh. Use your arms to lift your body and glide over the roller from your butt down to the back of your knee. Repeat for 60 seconds, targeting sore areas, then switch legs.
3. It improves your upper spinal mobility
Your upper spine is one spot in particular that can greatly benefit from foam rolling, especially in terms of mobility. Poor spine mobility is common and it can cause tension in your neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips. This tension leads to bad posture, aches, and pain unless addressed by stretching and massage. Foam rolling is an easy way to stretch out your upper back, helping improve your flexibility by loosening up the tissues.
Try the thoracic spine roll out: Lie on top of your foam roller, with the roller positioned horizontally under your upper back. Bend your knees so that your feet are on the ground and your butt is up off of the floor. Cross your arms across your chest, and roll up and down your upper spine for 60 seconds. Make sure to avoid your neck and lower back. It may feel uncomfortable and your back may crack, but rolling will help loosen your spine and improve your mobility.
4. It’s a runner’s best friend
Muscle tension is caused by repetitive motion, so runners often struggle with tight leg and hip muscles. Foam rolling helps release knots, improves your flexibility, and also decreases your risk of injuries caused by tension in your body. Rolling is particularly helpful for runners suffering from iliotibial band stiffness. The IT band is a piece of fascia that runs from your hip to your knee. If it's too tight, it pulls your knee out of place and can cause pain and swelling in your joint. Massaging your IT band with a foam roller is a great way to alleviate this pain.
Try the IT band roll out: Lie on your side with the foam roller under your hip. Prop yourself up with your elbow and roll your body back and forth from hip to knee. This roll out may be a bit painful at first and you may want to apply less of your body weight on the roller at first. It’s important to start light, and gradually apply more weight as it feels more comfortable.
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Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show, Extra, The Doctors and Good Morning America. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and on Pinterest.