You're an athlete. You understand that sometimes you're going to experience muscle tightness and pain. But, there's a big difference between experiencing a little bit of soreness and developing a giant knot in your back the size of Texas. Not only can chronically tight muscles hinder exercise performance, they can actually lead to further injury. Rather than cough up $60 or more to spend on a one-time sports massage, learn to do some self-massage and myofascial release at home with the incorporation of foam rolling exercises.
Foam rolling 101
A foam roller is a dense piece of foam that comes in varying lengths and densities that's designed to effectively massage the muscles and their surrounding tissue as you use gravity and your body's weight to press against the foam. What often occurs in athletes is that repetitive exercise will cause the muscles and the surrounding connective tissue (the fascia) to tear and repair in a way that forms adhesions -- areas that cause pain and reduce muscle movement. Foam rolling is an inexpensive way to perform myofascial release on these tight adhesions, causing the fascia to loosen and the scar tissue to break down. The amazing part is that you can experience almost immediate relief from muscle tightness and pain after performing the right type of myofascial release exercise using a foam roller or similar product.
Here are some tips for getting started:
- Warm up. Take five to 10 minutes to warm up before performing foam rolling exercises.
- Avoid bony areas and joints. You don't want to roll directly over your hips, knees or shoulder joints -- this can place too much pressure on the joint itself.
- Roll slowly and stop when you find a painful spot. It may hurt, but directly targeting adhesions will help them release and provide you with relief. Just try to keep pain levels below a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. If you find an painful spot that you can't roll directly over, try to approach it from an angle by rotating your body's position slightly.
- Perform each exercise for about 60 seconds. Incorporate foam rolling into your regular workout routine.
Check out this video for an introduction to foam rolling >>
6 Foam rolling exercises
You can use the foam roller on practically any area of your body, from your calves to your back to your triceps. That said, it's generally most effective on your lower body and back because of the weight of your body and gravity's affect on that weight. Essentially, you can press harder on those tough adhesions because you have more weight to work with! Check out these six videos that walk you through a few popular foam rolling exercises that are especially helpful for the active, sporty woman.
Quads and IT band
Runners are frequently plagued with IT Band issues due to the repetitive muscle-stabilizing requirements of the IT band during running. And, while quad injuries are a less-frequent complaint of female athletes, these two foam rolling exercises really go hand-in-hand.
Calves and hamstrings
Whether your calves and hamstrings are tight from hours of running or long sessions at the gym, these two exercises will ease the pain and help prevent injuries.
Glutes and back
The glutes and the muscles of the back are used during practically every exercise or sport activity. From core stabilization to hip abduction, adduction, extension and rotation, tightness in these areas can really affect performance. Even if you feel great, incorporating these foam rolling exercises into your regular routine can help prevent future injuries from arising.