Relieve muscle tension with foam rolling

FEATURE — Whether you are currently quite active or more sedentary, chances are you’ve experienced muscle tightness from the wear and tear of everyday life.

The technical name for foam rolling is self-myofascial release. It is a stretching technique that focuses on the neural and fascial system in the body or, the fibrous tissue that surrounds and separates muscle tissue, as noted by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Do you ever get muscle tightness or “knots” in your lower back or legs that are only relieved by receiving a massage? Do you wonder why this is?

Foam rolling is what some experts call a “poor man’s massage” because the person can apply gentle pressure to the tender spots (or the areas that are painful) themselves. By doing so, bring the bundled muscle tissues into straighter alignment. It’s as though you are ironing out those tight knots, similar to a paid massage session. So in essence, you’re giving yourself a massage, hence, “self” myofascial release.

The key with loosening tight muscles is to slowly maneuver the roller gently over tender areas that are located in various parts of the body. Common areas include the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, iliotibial band, and the lower back. However, be sure to receive professional guidance when rolling out the lower back to ensure you are doing so safely. There are tools you can buy online to target smaller areas in the neck, shoulders and upper trapezius muscles that may be awkward using a bulky foam roller on.

The ideal time to foam roll is before and after performing physical activity or an exercise session. Ten minutes a day of consistent foam rolling will bring noticeable differences in how you move and allow you to do so with less pain. Foam rollers can be purchased at most sporting goods stores in a variety of sizes and densities. You can even use a baking rolling pin and manually roll out muscles using your hands. There are lots of modifications if you need them.

The following is a sample lower body rolling routine that you can start today.

Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on the IT band | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News
Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on the IT band | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News

Outer thigh (IT band)

  1. Lie with the roller on side, in front of hip
  2. Cross top leg over lower, with foot touching floor and bottom leg raised off floor
  3. Slowly roll from upper portion of outer thigh, slightly in front of hip joint, to knee; apply pressure on tender spots for 30-60 seconds

Front of thigh (quadriceps)

Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on the quads | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News
Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on the quads | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News
  1. Lie on stomach with roller under front of thigh, upper body supported on forearms
  2. Slowly roll front of thigh; apply pressure on tender spots for 30-60 seconds

Hip rotators (piriformis)

  1. Sit with roller on the back of hip
  2. Cross same foot to opposite knee to increase pressure (optional)
  3. Slowly roll back of hip, applying pressure to tender spot for 30-60 seconds
Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on his calves using one and two legs on the foam roller | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News
Kevin Weston performing the foam rolling on his calves using one and two legs on the foam roller | Image courtesy of Kevin Weston, St. George News

Calves (gastrocnemius)

  1. Place roller under one or both calves with hips lifted off the floor
  2. Slowly roll up and down calf muscle, applying prolonged pressure to tender spots for 30- 60 seconds

If you are tight, which most people are, prepare yourself for a love/hate relationship with foam rolling. It can be very painful in the beginning, but not nearly as uncomfortable as living a lifetime of having steel cables for muscles with zero flexibility or mobility.

Kevin Weston
Kevin Weston

Written by Kevin Weston for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.

As a graduate of BYU, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist and NASM certified personal trainer, Kevin Weston understands and lives the science of exercise. His training company, Custom Fit Workouts is located inside Anytime Fitness in Santa Clara.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • CHJ January 4, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    What type of foam is used? Where can it be purchased?

    thanks

  • Wildbull January 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    you can purchase one @ ST. George running center

  • Myself January 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Unfortunately, foam rollers have been overemphasized by people that just follow the trends instead of looking at the real science behind them. Check out http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/your-it-band-is-not-the-enemy-but-maybe-your-foam-roller-is to get a good idea of the problems they actually cause. Too bad Kevin Weston didn’t do a bit more actual research before writing this.

    • Kevin January 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

      Hello MYSELF,
      I appreciate you reading my article and I think it’s always a good idea to question what you read on the internet. In the link that you provided, the author did not provide any sources or research to back what he was stating. (So I couldn’t research it out, but hey, I didn’t either in my article, but I will from now on.) There is still a lot of research that needs to be performed on the long-term validity of foam rolling, but one prominent peer-review study stated that ‘an acute bout of SMR (Self Myofascial Release) of the quadriceps was an effective treatment to acutely enhance knee joint ROM without a concomitant deficit in muscle performance.’ You can read the abstract here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580977
      There’s lots of conflicting information you can find online, but I have personally introduced hundreds of clients to foam rolling and have yet to have any of those clients develop the adverse IT-Band issues that the breakingmuscle.com website described due to foam rolling. Without any definitive data, people will have to use their best judgement and do what works best for them.
      Thanks again for taking the time to read my stuff and for the reminder to source my research! – Kevin Weston

  • PressOrSay January 5, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Great to see Kevin Weston on here! Have worked with him for years – knowledgeable, responsible, and dedicated. Wonderful trainer!

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