The Foam Rolling You Should Be Doing (But Probably Aren’t)

By Dr. Mercola

I love to share simple, inexpensive tricks you can use to get in better shape and take your fitness to the next level.

You don’t need an expensive gym membership to stay fit and healthy, especially if you build your fitness routine around items you can use in your own home (or use your own body-weight for exercises).

One tool that should be a part of your home gym (or your gym workouts, if you prefer!) is a foam roller.

They don’t have to be made of foam though. My favorite is actually a padded plastic roller called the Trigger Point Performance Foam Roller. This one doesn’t wear out over time and retains it shape to help you get the benefits.

Why Using a Foam Roller Is So Beneficial-

As its name implies, a foam roller is a large “log” made out of foam that helps your body to warm up for exercise and recover afterward. Among its many benefits are:

-Improved circulation

-Increased blood flow

-Releases muscle tightness

-Breaks down knots in your muscles

-Reduces pain

Using a foam roller is actually similar to getting a massage (only less expensive!). As you roll on it, fibrous tissue is broken down and circulation is boosted, helping to relieve tension and pain. When you perform various exercises with the roller it also helps to engage your muscles and build strength. Plus, because the foam roller is unstable, using it works your core muscles and helps improve balance. Many people wait to use a foam roller until they feel a tight spot in a muscle, then simply ‘roll’ it out. While this can be effective, it’s a mistake to regard the foam roller as only an occasional fitness tool. You can actually use it daily (even if it’s for just a few minutes) to help prevent trouble spots in your muscles from occurring.

Increase Your Range of Motion in Five to 10 Seconds-

Foam rollers are often used by therapists and athletes to mimic myofascial release treatments, which are typically used to help reduce muscle immobility and pain. Their effects can be quite significant, as one study found that using a foam roller on your hamstrings may lead to statistically significant increases in range of motion after just five to 10 seconds. Separate research also found that using a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness, which may indicate improved flexibility, and improves vascular endothelial function.

Older women who used foam rollers for balance training also showed improvements in dynamic balance after just five weeks, adding scientific credibility to the use of this incredibly simple fitness tool. My favorite is to combine the Trigger Point Foam Roller with the Power Plate. The vibration from the Power Plate is a powerful synergy with the foam roller and I seek to do that twice a day when I have access to a Power Plate. This combination can radically increase your range of motion and flexibility.

5 ‘Critical Rules’ for Foam Rolling-

Master trainer Josh Stolz recently shared what he calls the five most critical rules for getting the most out of your foam roller.

-Drink plenty of water first: This helps to keep your tissues hydrated and more pliable during rolling, so drink a large glass of water first.

-Use your roller for warm-ups and cool downs: Foam rollers are both a warm-up tool and a recovery tool. Try swapping out static stretches in your warm-up for foam rolling.

-Slow down: Avoid rolling too quickly; your movements on the foam roller should be slow and concentrated.

-Move in multiple directions: For best results, combine up-and-down, side-to-side and other directional movements to best work your muscles.

-Do it regularly– preferably daily: As mentioned, using the foam roller daily is an excellent tool for muscle maintenance, injury prevention and pain relief.

Try These Foam Roller Exercises-

Once you get your foam roller, what should you do with it? Try these sample exercises from Q by Equinox.

1. Lats “Position yourself on your right side with your right leg flat, knee bent 90 degrees, your left foot flat on the floor. Place the center of a foam roller beneath your right arm pit, perpendicular to your body, and extend your right arm straight, resting your left hand on the foam roller. (Reach that right arm as far as possible to create more of a stretch.) From this position, roll from your armpit about four inches down towards your waist, and back again, for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides; repeat.”

2. Shoulders and Pecs “Lie face down, resting your left forearm on the floor, legs slightly wider than shoulder width. Place one end of a foam roller under your right shoulder, extending arm straight out at shoulder height, forming a T with the roller. (Again, reach that straight arm as far as possible to create more tension.) In short movements, roll from your shoulder to right pec and back again, for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides and repeat.”

3. Thoracic Spine “Lie face up with feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Center a foam roller beneath your mid-back or shoulder blades so that it is perpendicular to your body. (Note: You can move the foam roller up and down to target different areas of the thoracic spine while still doing the extension motion.) Extend arms out from shoulders at a 45-degree angle. Reach arms back behind you towards floor and back again for 30 seconds to a minute. Make sure that the lower back doesn’t extend—think about pushing the lumbar spine into the ground as you are reaching back.”

4. Calves “Sit with legs extended in front of you, and rest your lower right calf on the center of a foam roller that’s perpendicular to your body. With hands on the floor, press your triceps to lift your butt off the floor, and then place your left foot on top of your right calf. Roll up from your lower right calf to the meat of your calf and back for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch legs; repeat. (Note: Also target the inside and the outside of the calf simply by turning the foot in or turning the foot out.)”

5. Glutes and Piriformis “With your feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width, center a foam roller beneath your glutes. Lift your right leg and rest your right ankle on your left knee. Roll back and forth from the center of your right glute to the bottom of your spine for 30 seconds to a minute; switch legs and repeat.”

How to Make Your Foam Roller Workout Even Better-

The benefits of using a foam roller are even better if you do them on a Power Plate, which is my favorite type of Acceleration (or Whole Body Vibration) Training equipment. Acceleration Training is ideally done using a platform like the Power Plate, which vibrates in three planes: vertical, horizontal and sagittal (front to back).

There is equipment out there that only moves in two planes but the three-plane movement devices seem superior. These micro-accelerations force your muscles to accommodate, resulting in dramatic improvement in strength, power, flexibility, balance, tone and leanness. Remember, you can perform many different types of exercises on the Power Plate, including foam rolling, and doing so will enhance your results. Combining the Power Plate and Trigger Point Foam Roller is something I do virtually every day when I am at home.

When you stand on the vibrating platform, each muscle in your body reacts in a continuous flow of micro adjustments, contracting reflexively.The up-and-down movement improves your muscle tone. The left-to-right, and front-to-back movements improve your balance and coordination. What’s truly exceptional about Acceleration Training technology is that it engages up to 98 percent of your muscle fibers—including the fast and super-fast muscle fibers. So, with Acceleration Training you get greater rewards and shorter workouts because you’re working muscle fibers every second.

I truly believe Acceleration Training technology represents a revolution in fitness science that can benefit virtually everyone, regardless of age or fitness status. However, even if you don’t have access to such technology, regular foam rolling is still an excellent strategy to add to your fitness program.

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