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On a roll

Foam rollers work wonders for sore and stiff muscles and are the hottest, new fitness accessory, says Saimi Sattar

Athletes swear by them and fitness gurus are creating a regimen around them. Foam rollers of different sizes and density are edging their way into fitness routines. Over the last two years, these new fitness accessories have become an intrinsic part of wellness programmes to soothe sore and stiff muscles.

Exercise specialist and master rehabilitation trainer Vani B. Pahwa lays stress on the importance of exerting the correct pressure on the roller during a workout. Photo: Jagan Negi

Cylindrical in shape and made with foam, these rollers help increase blood flow, improve the efficacy of a workout and relieve stiffness post a workout.

The rollers primarily work upon fascia or the sheet of connective tissue — primarily collagen — that lies beneath the skin and attaches, stabilises, encloses and separates muscles and other internal organs. Vesna Jacob, fitness instructor who offers a holistic approach to prevention of diseases and rehabilitation of injuries at her wellness clinic, Vesna’s Alta Celo, says: “Fascia holds together the entire skeletal system and prevents it from collapsing. Fascia is non-elastic and if it gets strained it pulls at the muscles, which, in turn, become tight, making movement difficult and painful. Rollers are extremely useful in loosening such muscles.”

Jatin Arora, founder and head coach at Bootcamp Yellow, an outdoor fitness programme, and master trainer for Reebok Running Squad and Rehab Specialist, says: “With the rollers you can do your own massage and relax the fascia.”


Trainer Neeraj Surana says that while foam rolling is an ideal workout, beginners should do it under expert supervision. Photo: Rashbehari Das

There are several different kinds of foam rollers doing the rounds of gyms. Mickey Mehta, fitness guru, says: “Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. One should choose a roller based on its density or firmness. A higher density roller provides deeper and intense tissue massage while softer rollers are less intense but are easier to use.”

Deepak Rawat, national fitness manager, Fitness First health club, Delhi, incorporates a foam roller workout three to four times a week for his clients. He says: “There are two different sizes of rollers for different parts of the body. The shorter one is used on the legs and arms while the long one is best for the mid-section of the body.” Small fascial balls, which are the size of a tennis ball, are used on the soles of the feet, the joint corners such as that of the shoulder, as well as the front and back of the hip.

How does one decide the body part over which the roller should be used? Arora says: “If you are using it post workout, then a foam roller is used over the sore points. If the roller is for a warm up, then those parts that will be used during the workout should be rolled.”


Fitness manager Deepak Rawat (in the foreground) integrates thrice weekly foam roller workouts into the exercise routines of his clients. Photo: Jagan Negi

Rollers are easy to use. Place one on the floor and using your body-weight move it back and forth. Rawat says: “For the roller workout to be effective, one should use it on one muscle for at least 30 to 45 seconds and repeat this twice.” He recommends starting with the lower body and moving up, thereby spending a good 15-20 minutes with the rollers.

Neeraj Surana, strength and conditioning trainer and operations director at Rush Fitness, Calcutta, says: “Another alternative is to use rollers on your off day when you can do 30-40 minutes of foam rolling.” However, beginners must do the roller routine only under the supervision of an expert.

Vani B. Pahwa, an exercise specialist and master rehabilitation trainer who runs the Body in Motion programme, says: “The correct technique of working out with a roller is important. The amount of pressure to be exerted and the duration of use are crucial.”

Rather than exercising an entire portion in one go, Vani prefers to use a roller on small sections, which, she says, makes it more effective. So, for the bicep, she moves the front of the muscle on the roller, and follows it up by moving the roller on either side.

Fitness instructor Vesna Jacob swears by foam rollers for their versatility and ability to realign the body. Photo: Jagan Negi

But rollers should not be used on joints and are a strict no on areas where there is inflammation or swelling. Rawat promises that anyone experiencing stiffness can be assured of immediate relief after using a roller.

Rollers are proving to be beneficial for anyone experiencing aches and pains. Says Arora: “Rollers help not just people who experience stiffness due to high-intensity workouts, but also women who wear high heels. They can use rollers over their calves, ankles and feet to relieve tiredness.”

Jacob says: “With the use of rollers the body gets realigned properly. One can do stretches easier, the body becomes injury proof as the fascia gets correctly aligned and functions more efficiently.”

Rawat seconds this: “Rollers help improve flexibility and mobility so you can perform better.” So what are you waiting for? Start rolling!

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