If you’ve been running for more than a month or two, you’ve probably heard of foam rolling. For some of you, a foam roller is your best friend. But if you’re new to running – and the recovery tactics that sometimes go along with it – you might be curious as to what foam rolling is and why it should matter to you.
A foam roller is an enclosed tube with a hard, stable core wrapped in softer foam. Foam rollers come in various densities, diameters and lengths based on the needs and preferences of the athlete, but all serve the same purpose: to promote myofascial release and improve flexibility and blood flow in muscles.
Essentially, as you exercise you create tiny tears in your muscles. These are perfectly normal, but over time they can build up to create scar tissue and cause the muscle to adhere to the fascia (the sheath-like tissue that surrounds your actual muscle). By applying pressure to these areas with a foam roller, the tissue is broken up and given a chance to re-heal in a more effective way, increasing muscle flexibility and blood flow, which consequently improves performance, reduces injury and speeds recovery.
A great alternative to foam rolling is sports massage. Massage is actually a more targeted way of releasing scar tissue and adhesions in muscles, but can get expensive over time. It’s also tough to schedule a massage after every workout. That’s why many runners rely on a mix of these two tactics to stay as limber and injury-free as possible: by foam rolling after each workout, and utilizing occasional professional sports massage to get at the tougher areas.
If you’re experiencing muscle tightness, or possibly even joint pain, take a look at foam rolling and sports massage. Regular maintenance of your muscles can go a long way in keeping you healthy, happy and on track for a great race in October.
Note: If you are new to foam rolling, it can be intense – ease into it! We recommend using very light pressures and short durations until you are sure how your muscles react and recover. A physical therapist can teach you proper techniques.