TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FOAM ROLLING

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1) What it is. A foam roller consists of a foam cylinder that comes in various sizes. A 12-inch-diameter roller is great for traveling, but we recommend the bigger, 36-inch foam roller for full bodywork. A variety of foam-roller densities also exist. Those new to foam rolling, or those who have particularly tight muscles, should start with a softer foam roll.

2) What it does. Foam rollers work by using the body’s natural response to pressure. As you roll over tight spots or muscle trigger points, the muscle relaxes. This is known as self-myofascial release. Using a foam roller is an inexpensive way to get a deep-tissue massage.

3) Effects. Whether you are racing or training, you can induce micro tears and swelling in muscle fibers, which impinge on nerves and vessels. Over time, these micro tears can develop into adhesions and scar tissue. Foam rolling helps smooth out these obstructions and breaks down adhesions. This increases blood flow within the muscle, improves your rate of recovery and boosts performance.

4) Body parts. There are many areas of the body that can benefit from foam rolling. Everyone likes a good back massage. You can duplicate this feeling along the entire length of your back, but only while using the large, 36-inch roller. The more painful body parts you can roll out are the quadriceps, IT bands and calves. You can also hit the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors, as these are usually less painful and good to start out with.

5) How to use it. Using a foam roller is simple, but working some areas may take a bit of practice and some body contortions. Start by finding a relatively open area with ample floor space. Position the area of the body that you want to focus on over the top of the foam roller. Control the pressure by applying more or less body weight on the foam roller and by using your hands and feet to offset your weight as needed. It’s helpful to try a variety of positions to see what works best for you. Make sure to stay on the affected muscle. Do not roll over any joints or bones, as it will cause more harm than good.

6) Warm up. We are not saying that you can’t foam roll when your body is cold, but we wouldn’t advise it. Get your heart pumping for a good 10 minutes with calisthenics before foam rolling. If you are working out, get your workout done first, then foam roll and stretch afterwards.

7) Trigger points. When you’re running a foam roller up and down each body part, there can be sore spots in certain areas of the muscle. When you hit a sore spot, sit on it for around 10 seconds. Make sure to always roll toward the heart when on a sore spot.

8) Pain. As the old adage goes, “No pain, no gain.” If you are an active person who rides often and has not incorporated much stretching or foam rolling into your routine, chances are foam rolling is going to hurt. If this is you, opt for softer foam to start with. Since it is only your body weight on the roller, you can lessen the weight with your hands and feet. We recommend tracking your progress with a pain-management scale. Rate each body part on a pain scale from 1 to 10. If you use the foam roller consistently, the pain will decrease, then you can move to a stiffer foam or even a large PVC pipe.

9) Duration. When first starting out, start small. If you are new to foam rolling, your body will become extremely sore if you stay on any muscle group too long. Start with 10 seconds for each muscle, then slowly work up to 30 seconds or a minute. In the beginning, do it once every other day. When you are no longer sore, start foam rolling every day. Top athletes will roll up to two or three times daily.

10) Recovery. As stated, there is a good chance you may be sore the first few times after foam rolling. Give it 24 to 48 hours before focusing on the same area again. Just like a massage, foam rolling will break down the muscles and release toxins into the body. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. Just be sure to drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and eat well. This will help flush your system and fuel your muscles more effectively.

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