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What the heck is foam rolling

My first inclination was to start writing about self-myofascial release and golgi-tendon organs and what that has to do with foam rolling. I decided that would be too boring for most of my readers and I should go with the “Foam Roll For Fat Loss” angle to get your attention. However, that angle seems a little superficial for the great benefit foam rolling can provide you, so I’ve decided to go with a combined angle. Here goes:

What Does Foam Rolling Do?

Foam rolling provides a deep, but gentle, tissue stretch for improved mobility and reduction of pain. When I was a massage therapist and when clients asked for deep tissue work, or I found a muscle that was knotty and prevented movement or caused pain, I would utilize a technique call myofascial release (MFR.) MFR is slow, deep pressure along the muscle fibers. This technique improves blood flow, lymphatic (waste) drainage and relaxes the muscles to improve function and feeling.

MFR works on connective tissue, called fascia, that is throughout your body, from head to toe. It goes in, around and in between every muscle, joint, artery/vein, nerve tissue, internal organ, etc. Fascia is one, big, continuous “sheet” of tissue. In other words, there are no breaks in it as it wraps itself throughout your body. This gives more meaning to “the leg bone is connected to the hip bone” because, while there is a boney connection that is quite obvious, you can now see how pain in your thigh could eventually cause pain in your shoulder and neck. Every part is truly connected to every other body part. Imagine fascia like yarn in a sweater. When you pull one small piece the entire sweater will unravel.

insert picture of sweater

In its normal, healthy state, fascia can move and stretch unrestricted. When trauma occurs, like a car accident, fall, inflammation or sustained poor posture, fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight and restricted. According to John F. Barnes, PT and leading authority on MFR “The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities.”

Foam Rolling is Like Getting A Massage!

Using a foam roller is a self-myfascial release technique. You are lengthening a muscle (like static stretching does) and improving the tone, or pliability, of the muscles while breaking up muscle adhesions and scar tissue – all necessary components to pain free range of motion and optimal strength and performance.

You might think, “Well, l I’m not an athlete. All I care about is losing this mommy belly and the fat the won’t budge from my butt! I’m not concerned about optimal strength and performance.” You should be. Optimal strength and performance isn’t just for elite athletes. It’s for everyone. If you need to bend, lift, push or pull or even walk, you want that movement to be optimal for you.

Foam Roll For Fat Loss

Here’s where the fat loss angle comes in! First, this deep form of stretching improves blood flow. Improved blood flow means that fat can be transported to be used by the liver and muscles for energy instead of being stored in the fat cells of your belly and butt and thigh region. Second, with improved joint mobility and flexibility your movement patterns are better. This means you can work at higher intensities without getting hurt. Staying healthy and strong means you can have consistent, quality workouts that are always burning fat (up to 36 hours after the workout).

Foam rolling should be a part of your health routine. Clients and boot campers foam roll before workouts and, time permitting,  afterwards. When foam rolling is done before a workout, a proper warm-up is particularly important. Our warm-ups always including activating the neuro-muscular sytem as well as the muscular and cardio-respiratory systems.

Action Steps:

  1. Buy a foam roll and use it regularly (at least 3 times per week). If your really busy and think you don’t have to foam roll right before or after your workout, then keep one in your home so you can use it while watching t.v., before you go to bed or right after waking up. You can get one at your local sporting goods store or at my partners at Perform Better.
  2. Foam roll an area for 30 seconds. Moving slowly. If you find a tender spot work the foam roll on the edges of the tender spot until it begins to ease up, then gently continue into the tenderness. It shouldn’t be teeth grittingly painful. Slightly uncomfortable is normal. Tight area may require more time, less problematic area will require less time. It really depends on the condition of your tissue.
  3. Stay away from boney prominences, recently injured areas, if you have circulatory problems or chronic pain conditions.

Here’s an example of foam rolling quads, or front thigh area:

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