After a hard workout or a stressful week at work, getting a massage is one of the best acts of self-care you can do for yourself. Unfortunately, unless your partner or roommate is a masseuse, expecting weekly massages isn’t very realistic or affordable.
Massages help to release tight, sore muscles and trigger points — but they aren’t the only way. If you don’t have access to regular massages, we suggest you give foam rolling a try. Foam rolling is an outstanding alternative that provides deep tissue release at a fraction of the price. Plus, you can foam roll whenever, wherever you want!
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR is a technical term for releasing tight muscles, connective tissue (fascia) and trigger points (sensitive points on muscles) with self-massage. Using a tool like a foam roller to apply pressure to these areas often helps relieve tight muscles and cause myofascial pain syndrome. Myofascial pain syndromes is when pressure applied to trigger points causes pain to radiate to other (seemingly unrelated) areas of the body. The pain you feel in other areas of the body is called referred pain (don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing).
Why should I foam roll?
While the jury is still out on whether foam rolling is the best method for SMR, recent studies have shown that proper foam rolling before or after a workout does have its benefits. In addition to relieving tight and sore muscles, it also improves joint range of motion and overall muscle performance. Here are more reasons why you should use a foam roller:
- It’s a great way to warm up. Using a foam roller before exercise gets your body warmed up by increasing blood flow to the muscles you’re rolling. So, if you’re about to do a killer leg workout, you’ll benefit from rolling those quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- It’ll improve the quality of your workouts. When muscles aren’t restricted by tightness, the body can move with more ease and perform exercises correctly.
- You’ll be less sore later. Studies suggest that foam rolling after a workout can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), meaning you’ll recover a little faster and possibly improve your performance in future workouts.
Foam rolling benefits
It’s time to get a little more specific about the benefits of foam rolling. In addition to warming your body up and reducing soreness, this self-massage technique can:
- Reduce pesky knots. Intense exercise can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). When you feel sore, you’re essentially feeling pain from microtrauma (tiny tears) in the muscle fibers. Oftentimes, as your body repairs the muscles, small knots form. Foam rolling helps align the muscle fibers and reduce discomfort as the body repairs itself.
- Flush toxins. Another way foam rolling helps alleviate soreness is by moving lactic acid and carbon dioxide — toxins built up during exercise — out of the muscles and tissues, and into the lymphatic system.
- Improve circulation. We touched on this above — foam rolling increases blood circulation, which in addition to warming your body up, helps muscles repair faster.
- Help range of motion. Your range of motion often decreases during exercise and strength training. This is because as muscles grow, they constrict and shorten during recovery. Connective tissue also thickens and tightens in an effort to protect the muscles. Foam rollers aid in the release of tension, allowing muscles to lengthen and return to their original size. This, in turn, improves range of motion.
Why does foam rolling hurt?
Let’s get real, foam rolling isn’t the most relaxing activity out there. In fact, for some, foam rolling is quite painful. However, our coaches say that foam rolling shouldn’t hurt to the point where you’re nearly in tears. Instead, it should feel uncomfortable or similar to muscle soreness, but not something you can’t push through.
But, why does it hurt? During exercise, our muscle tissues tear and rebuild themselves. Applying pressure to these tender areas stimulates our body’s pain receptors, but it shouldn’t be an unbearable level of pain. In fact, if you do feel sharp, sudden pain, it’s best to contact a doctor or sports therapist to see if you actually have an injury.
Should I feel sore after foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a type of self-massage that is supposed to help with DOMs, not cause more. If you are sore after foam rolling, it’s most likely because of your workout, not the foam roller. But, there’s also a chance that you’re doing it incorrectly. Learn how to foam roll properly in our article by Coach Alice.
While foam rolling is great to do on your own, if you have any nagging injuries or suspect a pulled muscle, always consult your doctor before adding foam rolling to your exercise routine. If you want to dig into 8fit’s workouts — which also come proper warm-up exercises — sign up here.