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Foam rolling is a simple, accessible way to warm up and ease muscle tension — if you do it properly. Myofascial release, the technical term for what you’re doing when you foam roll, can be uncomfortable at times, but it’ll do your muscles good if you stick with it.
First, let’s go over the basics of myofascial release. Fascia is the connective tissue covering all of your muscles, nerves and organs. When it becomes strained, your muscles feel tension and pressure, causing soreness. Myofascial release — in this case, foam rolling — massages and stretches the fascia layer to relieve that pain.
“Foam rolling is a way to self-massage or release the fascial tension created by training, aging and life,” says Elizabeth Andrews, ACSM-certified fitness instructor, presenter, educator and movement coach.
The movement enhances blood flow and keeps soft tissue supple, which allows for joints to move easier.
“I usually suggest to my clients that they roll about ten times up and down an area,” says Keely Grand, MA, certified personal trainer and wellness specialist. “But if they hit a tender spot then they can stay longer in that area.” She adds it’s important to always support yourself with your upper body, core and lower body while rolling, and to avoid rolling directly over your joints.
Foam rolling also isn’t something you should rush through. Taking the time to thoroughly massage the muscle groups you’re working on will help ensure you reap the benefits and help you steer clear of those joints.
Not convinced it’s worth the time and effort? Here are some more reasons to pick up foam rolling:
1. Rolling Increases Circulation
Foam rolling helps workout recovery by increasing blood flow to muscles while they are relaxed from the massage, says Nancy Jusino, NASM-CPT, PES. Increasing circulation to your muscles also means they’ll be fed the vital nutrients they need to heal and repair stronger and tighter.
2. Rolling Reminds You to Breathe Deeper
When you breathe deeply, you increase the amount of oxygen delivered to your muscles. Oxygen moves blood around, and blood drops off all the goodies for a prompt recovery. Deep breathing also helps you relax, easing tension from sore muscles. When you’re sore or in pain, the tendency is to do the opposite and hold your breath.
“The focused breathing will help blood move more freely to the area you are working on and help keep the muscles relaxed,” Jusino says.
3. Rolling Reduces Inflammation and Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a phenomenon that most lifters are familiar with. It happens about 12-24 hours after your workout and can last from 1-3 days, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. This is the kind of sore where going up and down the stairs, for example, leads to grimacing and lots of moans and groans. The good news is that recent research published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling reduces DOMS.
4. Rolling Improves Mobility
When you have good mobility and can move easier, you’ll end up moving your muscles more. This can also help get blood flowing, potentially making you less sore after a tough workout.
“Think about it as moving the energy in your body,” Grand says. “Tension and stress also get stuck and one of the ways to release those things is by foam rolling.”
You should try to incorporate rolling into your everyday routine, even when you’re not sore.