How $12 Can Completely Change Your Workout Game
Whoever decided to start marketing cylinders of high-density foam to avid exercisers as the latest, greatest workout tool was a genius. Not only are these foam rollers just about the simplest invention to hit the gym since the resistance band, they happen to be one of the cheapest and most effective tools around.
But if you have no idea how to foam roll, don't worry, you're not alone. Because foam rollers typically don't come with instructions printed on their sides, unless you've seen one in action, it's unlikely you'd instinctively know what to do with one. The good news is that, unlike the other torture devices you find at the gym, the foam roller actually provides the best kind of torture in the form of a (sometimes painful) self-massage.
The benefits of foam rollingLike the tool itself, foam rolling is quite simple. All you have to do is sit or lie atop the roller so your body's weight presses down into the tool. You then roll slowly across the roller, moving in the direction of the muscle group you're rolling, essentially using the roller to deliver a massage. This type of self-massage is termed "self-myofascial release," or SMR, and it's designed to help loosen adhesions that develop in your muscle fascia.
Which leads to the inevitable question: What the hell is muscle fascia? It's essentially a collagenous web that wraps all your muscle fibers (and everything else in your body). This fascia can "lock up" when it's dehydrated or damaged, leading to adhesions more commonly thought of as knots in your muscles. Over time, these knots can contribute to chronic pain and injuries, as well as limited range of motion. Fascial adhesions aren't your friend.
Foam rolling is one way to loosen up adhesions by increasing blood and nutrient flow to the muscle fascia while simultaneously helping buffer away waste. And it works. According to a 2015 review of literature on SMR published in the American College of Sports Medicine's Current Sports Medicine Reports, "SMR appears to have a positive effect on range of motion and soreness/fatigue following exercise."
So next time you're bemoaning your sore, tired body after a workout, but can't cough up the $50+ bucks for a trip to the masseuse, just spend $12 on a foam roller and roll away your pain. You can start with these four go-to exercises.
From this position, use your feet to pull your torso down as you roll over the top of the roller, enjoying a massage between your mid- and upper back. Once the roller reaches your upper back, just at the nape of your neck, reverse the movement and use your heels to push your torso away as you roll over the top of the roller until it reaches your mid-back. Continue rolling up and down for a total of about 10 to 12 passes.
After about 10 passes, spread your legs wider and point your toes outward to target the muscles at a slightly different angle, along the inside of your quads. After 10 more passes, draw your legs together and turn your toes inward to target the outside of your quads more effectively. Perform 10 more passes.
Sit on the ground, your right leg extended, your left knee bent, your foot flat on the ground. Position the foam roller under your right calf, perpendicular to your leg. Lean back slightly and place your palms on the ground behind you. Use your palms and your left foot to press down as you lift your hips from the ground. From this position, use your core, hands, and heel to help draw your torso forward and backward as you roll your right calf slowly over the foam roller. Do about 10 passes with your foot straight, then 10 with your toes pointed out and 10 with your toes pointed in. After all 30 passes, switch legs and repeat.
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