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March 22, 2019

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Foam rolling may provide the muscle relief you need

CrossFit at Rancho High

Leila Navidi

Zabdiel Hernandez, 15, rolls out his muscles on a foam roller during CrossFit gym class at Rancho High School in Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 12, 2012.

We all know muscle pain well. Whether from a bootcamp class, 10K training or cycling class, repetitive exercise movements tighten your body and can cause knots that limit your range of motion. There are many remedies to this—deep tissue massage, ice bath soaks, stretching before and after a workout—the list goes on. But more recently, a technique called foam rolling has found a place in studios and home fitness. Also dubbed “self-myofascial release,” foam rolling is a form of self-massage that literally employs rollers made of foam to reduce tension in the fascia, a thin membrane covering the body’s muscles. Still confused? You’re not alone. Read on to learn how to start receiving the many benefits of this at-home deep tissue relief system.

Tips before you get rolling

■ Expect a few bruises. Because you’re adding pressure to your skin, it’s not uncommon to see some bruising in the days after, however, if it’s more than occasional light marks or the source of severe pain, talk to a physician and consider a less dense roller.

■ Consider classes for additional guidance with the foam roller.

■ Avoid rolling directly over joints, bones and your neck.

■ Stay hydrated! Doing so will encourage muscle release.

■ Practice deep breathing while rolling to increase oxygen flow.

How do they work?

Foam rollers allow you to use motion and your body weight to apply pressure to muscles, relieving tension in a manner similar to massage.

Do they work?

While studies on foam rolling are still in their early stages and inconclusive, they indicate that foam rolling may contribute to “enhancing joint range of motion and pre- and post-exercise muscle performance,” according to Harvard Health.

Are there health risks?

As long as you don’t have strength or range-of-motion issues, a foam roller is likely safe. Start gently and escalate your workout slowly. Don’t roll over bones and joints and don’t apply too much pressure too fast. As always, when starting a new routine, it’s best to consult your doctor.

Foam roller care

• Storage: Store in a cool dry place where external forces can’t damage or deform your roller. For example, don’t stack other fitness equipment on top of the roller or leave it outside in direct sun.

• Cleaning: Use mild soap to wipe down surfaces. Do not submerge in water or use chemical cleaners. Rinse thoroughly.

Benefits of foam rolling include:

• Improved circulation and range of motion

• Helps reduce occurrence of injuries and soreness

• Decreases stress

• Improves muscle recovery times

• Helps keep joints and muscles healthy

Roll them out

• Glutes: Sit on the roller and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Shift your weight to the right and gently roll forward and backward on your right glute. Adjust the angle of your body for different intensities.

• Quads: Lie face down with both quads on the roller and your body supported by your forearms. Shift your weight to the right, and roll up to your waist and down to your knee. Shift to the left and do the same.

• Calves: Sit on the floor and place the foam roller under your left calf. Place your right foot and your hands on the ground, allowing you to lift your bum up. Move your body so that your left calf muscle rolls over the roller repeatedly. Alternate position: Do both calves at once.

• Upper Back: Lie face up with the roller placed horizontally at the base of your shoulder blades. Lift your hips with your feet planted squarely on the floor. Lean to the right and roll from your shoulders, down to your rib cage. Then shift to the left and do the same. Do not put weight on your spine.

The role fascia plays in the body

Fascia is the system of layered, web-like connective tissue that covers the body’s muscles, bones and joints, essentially compartmentalizing and keeping it in place, according to the National Institutes of Health. Think of fascia as the glue that helps protect and hold everything together underneath your skin.

It’s jam packed with nerves, and when relaxed, it’s malleable and bends, flexes and supports your muscles. When it’s stiff or damaged, it can inhibit motion, mute feeling and cause significant pain. If you’ve ever had a deep tissue massage and heard your body crunching under the pressure, that may have been your fascia crying for release.

To achieve healthy fascia, keep it loose, keep it hydrated and make sure it gets plenty of activity and rest.

How to pick a foam roller

When it comes to foam rollers, the options are endless. Tailor the following characteristics to your needs when purchasing.

• Density: Soft or less dense rollers put the least amount of pressure on muscles. They're great for beginners and allow the body to get used to the rolling process. Hard or dense rollers help apply more pressure to muscles. Be careful: A roller that is too dense or hard can cause pain and bruising. Note: If you're looking for durability, dense rollers are better at maintaining their form after multiple uses.

• Size: Long rollers that measure about 36 inches are great for first-timers and can be used for practically every muscle group. Short rollers (24 inches or less) are for more specialized efforts, encouraging maneuverability for muscles in the legs and arms, but not the back. When it comes to roller diameter, five to six inches is standard, but smaller rollers are available for more advanced users who want a deep, hard massage. They are not recommended for first timers.

• Surface texture: Rollers are available in smooth or knobby surfaces. Smooth surfaces are great for beginners or those with muscle pain that requires a tender touch. Textured surfaces are great for those wanting a more intense roll or for muscles in the back.