By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant
Ever wonder why people at the gym are rolling back and forth over those long foam cylinders? It may look like a mini-torture device, but it is actually an inexpensive piece of equipment that can be used in a multitude of ways to help your body. Here are just a few things you can do with a foam roller:
Get a Deep Tissue Massage
With the roller on the floor and your sore body part on top, slowly roll back and forth over the affected area. This allows you to use your body weight against the roller to help break up adhesions (where scar tissue that joins two body surfaces that aren’t supposed to be connected, usually from surgery, has developed) or other scar tissue to help you heal. It can also be used to simply loosen muscle tightness. Think of using it like a rolling pin flattening dough! While you won’t be flattening your body part, you will be providing a deep-tissue massage and doing what is called a self-myofascial release. This is a technique physical therapists use to help correct muscle imbalances, improve flexibility, and relieve soreness. The most common body parts rolled for this purpose tend to be the upper back, the iliotibial band (on the outside of your hip/upper leg), the hamstrings, and the quadriceps.
When you have knots in your back or neck, use the roller to apply pressure to them, sending a signal to the body to begin self-healing. Rolling over the knots helps your muscles relax. Once you are on the roller and you find that tight spot, apply constant pressure for up to a minute. Don’t forget your feet! Place under one foot at a time, rolling slowly over your bare foot. To apply more pressure, step on with both feet, but be sure to hold onto a barre or post for balance.
Help with Positioning
Foam rollers can also be used to help you get into and maintain certain positions in yoga. Put it under your knees to take pressure off your lower back with a pelvic tilt.
The fact that the roller rolls makes it great for improving your balance. Try lying on it while doing back exercises, use for standing balances and squats (do near a wall so you can catch yourself!), or do lunges with the roller under your back foot. All these exercises are a great way to improve your balance. Start easy and increase the challenge when you are ready.
Many stretches can be enhanced using the roller. To stretch your pectoral muscles, lie with the roller under your spine from head to hip. Form a giant T with your arms and let gravity slowly pull your hands to the floor, palms up. Hold for about a minute to really open up your chest and shoulders.
So, now you know why so many people are using these little rollers. They are inexpensive, versatile, easy to use, and easy to store!