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Foam rolling – whys and how to

There are a lot of links being shared online relating to foam rolling – whys and how to.
Based on practical experience, I have observed, most don’t seem to be able to perform rolling correctly or derive full benefits and still have doubts pertaining to foam rollers and rolling.

Some common questions coming my way:
– When should I foam roll – before or after exercising/activity/running?

You can foam roll before or after or both times. The difference would be in pressure applied and duration. Before any activity, the rolling should be more like a stimulus to the muscles performed in smooth, controlled motion without applying too much pressure or bearing down statically for too long. The idea is to get muscles ready and supple for action.Post exercise is when it’s recommended to go targeted, deeper and longer.

– Does it matter if I foam roll immediately after the activity or do it later?
While there is no hard and fast rule, it makes better sense to do it post the activity as soon as possible. It will help relieve stress from muscles faster (why wait?) and making it a part of post activity stretches (and not deferring it) would contribute to making it an ongoing practice. This reduces chances of giving it a miss and performing it an ad hoc manner, as is what happens quite often. That “later” doesn’t quite materialise.

– Technique of foam rolling
It’s more effective when a criss- cross pattern of rolling is also included rather than just a linear up and down movement (given the anatomical structure of muscle fibres).Break the part to be rolled into smaller segments and foam roll each small segment with focus, covering all segments of the muscle, bearing down and performing the movement slowly to get deeper muscular relief. This is more effective than rolling all the way up and down all at once, which leaves lesser control on pressure application and prevents even coverage of muscle fibres. Remember to focus not just on the belly of the muscle (middle section) but also roll the lateral (outside) and medial (inside) sections.Do not roll directly under joints.

– For how long should I foam roll a part?
It can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. Pre activity, keep it comparatively shorter. Post activity ,it would depend upon the soreness quotient. Foam rolling can be painful and as most know, the tighter the muscles with stress, the greater the discomfort. Stay with it for a couple of minutes with your pain index as guide – both for time and intensity. Generally anything between 1-5 minutes (research shows) works for majority. You are your best guide. The idea is to give relief to a sore muscle and not make it angrier by subjecting it to prolonged and too intense a pressure. What seems to work well with clients is when I break it down this way: roll an area for about 30-60 seconds, release and allow the muscle to respond (sensation response) and continue adjusting pressure and time spent based on biofeedback. Average about 2-3 minutes (again depends upon how sore) or how much relief is felt. Be warned – different days can elicit different responses, depending also upon intensity of activity. Proactively adjust.

Do NOT over do it.
Do NOT roll over an injured area or if a strain or tear is suspected. If in doubt, get that possibility out of the way first. You don’t want to inflict more damage.

For intensity – I follow the 1-10 scale (1 being least and 10 maximum pressure/pain). All else being good, a pressure of 6-7 works well for most. This number is again relative. Sore muscles can hit this scale even with a small application of pressure and taper off over a period of time as one progresses with SMR (self myofascial release).

– Is there any benefit of foam rolling?
While research is still getting its grip on it, the fact remains that as a means of (self) releasing muscular stress it does seem to elicit more ‘Yay’s than ‘Nay’s from folks around. So there seems little reason not to do anything to make one feel better. However, as with all else, regular practice gives better results than ad hoc attempts.

– Can I foam roll even on days I don’t work out?
Sure! Foam rolling is a technique of releasing muscular soreness and tiredness. So even those not into athletic pursuits can perform it. Just be careful, not to over do it and perform it correctly.

– What type of foam roller should I use? Where will I get one?
A mid sized one, (something like the ones in the pics) seems to work very well for most people and for most parts of the body (including back).

It should not ‘give’ under your body weight i.e it should offer good resistance when you roll over it.
There are several brands available to suit different pockets and can be bought online or from a sports goods shop.
And last but not the least – if in doubt, first learn the proper way of rolling – how to target body parts and how to maintain body posture while rolling. Online tutorials are there, but nothing beats learning it from someone who knows how to and practice with them.


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