Everyone experiences some form of tightness following exercise, whether it be light or strenuous. Stretching out the tight areas may help a little, but it does not seem to completely solve the problem. At this point the tightness may be persistent and prevents you from getting the full potential of your exercises. Tightness may hinder the range of motion in weight training, and can degrade running biomechanics.
When it comes to the topic of injury prevention, one thing that comes to mind is flexibility and joint health. Those of you who have had persistent tightness and pain in the past with running, or whatever type of exercise you are into, might have gone to a physiotherapist, massage therapist, or a chiropractor to have them release your tight muscles. The problem is that much of this tightness is at the muscular and fascial level. You may know this better as muscle knots. These are caused by stress on the muscle and connective tissue, and if ignored can cause serious detriment to training and injury. Of course, the obvious solution then is to visit your therapist regularly to have them release your tightened tissues, but this ends up being unaffordable for most of us.
Foam rollers have aptly been named the poor man’s masseuse. They cost relatively little compared to visiting a therapist, and are typically self administered. When used properly, they can mimic the actions of a therapist releasing your muscles. Using the foam roller puts pressure deep enough within the tissue to activate the golgi tendon organ, which, when activated causes the muscle to relax, allowing you to roll the knot out. Continuous rolling also breaks up free adhesions, allowing the muscle to contract more efficiently and giving you the release needed to keep training. Foam rollers provide a cheap, safe method for relaxing overly active muscles and loosening up.
Using a foam roller is fairly simple, but may take some instruction for hitting the muscles the right way. Placing the foam roller on the ground, lay the muscle you are working onto the foam roller and then place your body weight onto that muscle. This will be a bit painful (7-8 on a scale of 1-10; 1=no pain 10=unbearable), especially on the trouble spots along the muscle, but bear through it! You then roll on the muscle doing slow strokes, pausing on the tender spots and then moving on. For a light warm-up and loosening before exercise, 6-12 strokes is sufficient and any more strokes may cause too much relaxation of the muscle fibers. If using the foam roller to completely release the muscle, it may take quite a bit of time, or even multiple sessions to achieve a relaxed state. Just like with any type of training, you must be consistent in order to get results. Foam rolling should be done at least twice a week in order to keep it effective.
Some variations to using a foam roller are the tennis ball, lacrosse ball, The Stick, Back Knobber, Thera Cane, and PVC pipe for those with a higher tolerance. Each of these tools can be utilized to release tight muscles and improve flexibility, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing recovery. Other benefits include improved blood flow to tissues, increased joint health, and stress reduction!
Some precautions with foam rolling include not rolling if you have inflammatory conditions, osteoporosis, open wounds, circulatory conditions, fractures, and it is unadvised for women to foam roll during menstruation. It is also advised to move towards the heart in the longer and harder strokes. This prevents back-flow of blood in the veins, and protects the one-way valves in the veins.
Foam rolling is definitely a handy tool for runners, strength trainers, and athletes of all types in assisting them with their recovery and injury prevention. It provides for a cost effective and simple to use strategy, and with just a little guidance and coaching, you could start foam rolling as well and achieve greater muscle and joint health. Stay tuned for more articles detailing foam rolling techniques and specific running injuries.
By Coach Kevin Hehr
As founder of Ivanco Fitness, my promise is to ensure your journey in fitness is unlocked and uplifted. It was the summer of 2012 and I was burnt out - I had spent over 10,000 hours personally training clients through rehabilitation to health, and from health to strength. Young and old and in between, I worked with these individuals to help them create their best version of themselves. While this brought me much joy, I was stressed, tired, and knew I was limited to only a small group of people I could help in this way. I had worked with other coaches along the way, and realized it was time to build a team and create a system that would allow talented coaches to create meaningful connections with those who seek to uplift their lives through physical training. Having brought the right people on board, Ivanco now works as a team of trainers, kinesiologists, holistic nutritionists and administrative staff to provide a more streamlined and versatile experience than an independent trainer could offer. Yours in health, Ivan.