Choosing an appropriate foam roller can be a challenge for athletes and other individuals using them for the first time. Foam rollers come with different densities, making them suitable for who they’re intended for and how they feel.
Using a too-soft roller can give insufficient support while a too-hard roller can lead to bruising and tissue damage, which will have a detrimental effect on your physical performance and may even cause pain. It’s important to know what your foam roller is made of and to get advice from a professional before you buy one.
There are three areas where the majority of foam rollers will be useful – the abdominal area, the calves, and the hamstrings. The calves are deep and attached to the front of the shinbone, so effective resistance there is likely to be a reduction in friction as well as pain. Your hamstrings are semi-extended and can be easily accessed by the quadriceps.
Foam rollers that are specifically designed for the hamstrings can be extremely useful to prevent the hamstrings from becoming sore. If you do suffer from sore hamstrings, a foam roller can aid recovery by absorbing some of the stress, whilst working the calves and stomach muscles at the same time.
When considering the foam roller you should always ask yourself what you’re going to be using it for – will you be using it for self-myofascial release, increasing joint or muscle strength, or simply improving flexibility?
Research suggests that self-myofascial release techniques such as those used in self hyperventilation can work, but that they can also lead to muscle tissue injury and excessive swelling. This is because they rely on fast and efficient movements which may not be supported by your spinal muscles. This means that whilst they may feel good, they could also cause serious injury to you.
Increasing muscle performance through static stretching exercises is also possible, but again these will require the athlete to move quickly enough to support themselves. The foam roller is a great choice for targeting tightness in the hip flexors without having to add extra movement to your workout.
The roller allows for targeted deep muscle penetration; however, it isn’t advisable to use it to perform tasks such as holding a weight in the raised hand whilst using the other hand to hold onto the opposite knee.
Foam rollers that have been specifically designed to work well with massage are especially beneficial to athletes. Being able to roll their body back in a range of positions during a session can help improve circulation and reduce swelling. This is because the foam roller is particularly good at working the superficial muscles furthest away from the heart, whilst simultaneously providing strong effects on deeper layers.
Muscle fatigue is something that all athletes will experience at some point in their career, and while simple stretching can help, more complex movements like swimming and cycling can be difficult. It’s often during periods of high stress that muscles get damaged, and foam rollers are great for reducing tension that’s commonly caused by repetitive motion.
Another benefit of foam roller massage is that they can be used with or without music – working muscles release chemicals in the body that help increase endurance and fitness.