Rolling Away

I bought myself a roller last week. The previous day I had so much pain in my calves I couldn’t do anything on my toes during my spartacus workout. I couldn’t skip rope, I couldn’t do jumping jacks, I couldn’t do high knees, it hurt so much. So after struggling through the workout by doing mountain climbers instead, I picked up one of those foam rollers that lie around in the gym. And I massaged my sore calves with it. It felt great. It hurt, but I could tell it was helping. I had been told before by a fellow gym goer that he regularly uses it and that it does wonders for him in terms of mobility in his shoulders. Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique used by athletes and therapists to help with recovery from overactive muscles. Fascia are the connective tissue that surrounds all our muscles and allows our range of motion.

You have probably seen these rollers around too. Maybe at your gym. Or in a health and fitness magazine. Or in a sports shop. They have been around now for a while, and have become very popular. There are not many studies that have proved the effectiveness of foam rolling, but athletes, bodybuilders and weightlifters are saying it works.

So I went to my favourite sports shop here and picked up a massage therapy roller from PTP. It had George Gregan on the box as he’s an ambassador for PTP so the choice among all these different brands of rollers was made easy for me, I loved watching George play rugby. (His autobiography is also a great read by the way). The roller I got is of the firm kind, but there are softer ones too. The one I chose has like big cones on it (see picture below). According to the description, the coned shaped design acts to trigger point the “belly” of the muscles (which is the thickest part of the muscle), making the stretch reflex respond more effectively. And as I had already tried the exact same model at my gym, I already knew how this would feel. It’s obviously more intense than the smooth surface rollers, as the cones “dig” deeper into the muscles. If you are new to foam rolling and deep-tissue massage, it is better to start with a softer, even-surfaced roller, as it can otherwise cause unnecessary pain and even bruising.

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So that same night I spent 20 minutes on the floor in front of TV rolling my calves, quads and hamstrings. I immediately felt release of the tension, although it did hurt a little, especially in my calves. The following morning I did a very intensive 50 minutes spinning class and my legs did not hurt at all. Not even my calves (although I must admit I didn’t work much on pushing down with my toes). That night I was “rolling” again. I also tried using it on my glutes by sitting on it in the pigeon position. PTP offers free videos on its website on how to use the roller which is really helpful. I recommend that you check them out regardless of the brand of your roller. As with every exercise and piece of gym equipment, if done wrong it can do more harm than good.

Here are Some Advantages of Foam Rollers:

  • Foam rolling can be done alone anywhere without help – once you know how to do it properly. As mentioned above, there are videos you can check out, or ask your personal trainer or therapist to show you how to do it.
  • It is very time-efficient. 30 to 90 seconds per muscle group is enough. Sports chiropractors don’t recommend to do it for more than 20 minutes. Overdoing it can increase injuries.
  • Foam rolling decreases muscle tension in tight spots, like deep-tissue massage, reduces soreness and speeds up recovery.
  • Done consistently and not just on the days you exercise, foam rolling can increase your range of motion.
  • Many athletes use foam rolling as standard practice as they see an increase in the performance capability of a muscle (the more flexible a muscle is in its normal range of motion, the more power they can produce – just think of an elastic band).

Here Are Some Tips Before You Roll Away:

  • Roll back and forth across your selected muscles for 30 to 90 seconds.
  • You want to feel pleasant pain (this hurts so good), not unbearable pain (I’m tearing up).
  • Do not roll over bony areas and joints, such as your kneecaps.
  • Be careful rolling over a severely painful area; too much direct pressure could worsen already inflamed tissues. If you have knots, loosen them by placing the roller under it and push down with your weight. Once the knot is loosened lengthen the muscle by rolling.
  • When working on a sensitive area, repeated shorter bouts are better than one longer bout. Similarly, two or three shorter rolling sessions throughout the day are better than one longer session when you’re addressing trigger points.
  • After working an area with a trigger point, do some light stretching, ideally active isolated stretching (stretching an isolated muscle for 2 seconds 8 to 10 times).

As with everything, consistency is key. I personally have seen improvements within a short period of time, so I would recommend to try it for yourself. So start rolling and let me know how you go….

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