Most devoted gym goers are probably familiar with lightweight cylinder-shaped workout tools typically scattered about in the stretching area of the gym. At this point, even those who don’t go to the gym may have likely seen these foam rollers. Similar to kettlebells, jump rope and resistance bands, foam rolling was not a major fitness trend in previous decades. Rolling has only recently become a normal part of mainstream workouts.
Thanks in part to yoga and its emphasis on flexibility, stretching and pre-workout warm-ups are now commonplace (ditto for post-workout cool downs). Rolling on foam may not seem like it does much, but a good roll can go a long way toward creating a deep tissue massage. Anyone who feels soreness or tightness in any muscle group should consider giving foam rolling a shot. Rolling is especially common for getting knots out of tight muscles, particularly those leg muscles like glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves.
Generation Active contributor Eric Ethridge is a former practicing Chiropractor and current country music star who just released the first single from his new album. While he loves to help others, he knows that the best assistance he can provide to teach people to take care of themselves.
“One of the most important things I always tried to convey to my patients was to empower them to treat themselves when it’s possible,” Eric says. “Believe it or not, there are a lot of things that you can do on your own to help decrease your pain if you’re experiencing an injury or muscle soreness.”
Since foam rollers have only recently skyrocketed in popularity, Eric often has to explain the function and utility of foam rollers to his clients.
“They come in different lengths and sizes and different densities and hardness,” he points out. “Essentially what they are is a tool to help massage yourself.”
Of course, foam rollers aren’t the only way to massage muscle soreness. “There are many ways to take sore muscle and make it less sore or make it less painful,” he said. “You can do it through massage and vibration. You can use acupuncture. You can use trigger point therapy. Foam rollers are another great option.”
Once he explains the purpose of foam rolling, Eric would advise his clients and followers on the best technique and approach, generally speaking. “There’s a bunch of opinions on this, but you could do foam rolling before you work out, and you can do it after.”
Since the body is made up of over 600 muscles, and they are all connected to tissue, bones and nerves, Eric acknowledges the value in maintaining a holistic perspective in treatment. Foam rolling is just one of the many massage methods that can assuage muscle pain.
“One thing you want to do is you want to make sure that you hit every area of your body with the foam roller.”
Different parts of the body affect other parts. For example, if there’s a tightness in your leg, it could be affecting a muscle in your upper back or your shoulder on the other side.
“One thing that I have found effective is if you lay out a foam roller, find a spot that’s really sore,” Eric says. “Hold that spot for at least a minute and then I want you to notice how the pain started dropping. Once that pain is dropping, you can hold it for up to two minutes, then move on to the next area.”
The decreased soreness is a result of ameliorated soft-tissue, accomplished by rolling the muscle over top of the foam roller.
“Once you’re done, go back to that original spot and see how sore it is,” he says. “What you’ll likely notice is that that first spot is a lot less sore the second time you go back to it.”
Of course, there are other ways to accomplish this without using a roller, as Eric is quick to point out.
“Foam rollers, massage, vibration, acupuncture– there are a million techniques. This is just one of them that you can do to help yourself,” he said. “This is a technique that tells your nervous system and it tells your muscles to calm down.”
In addition to your muscles, rollers can help relieve joint pain as well.
“The second thing that foam rolling is really effective for is once you release this tension in your muscles and all your muscles all over your body, it will take the stress off your joints,” Eric says. “So, you’ll have less pressure in your joints, but that will also help you move better when you go to exercise.”
Foam rolling is a great way to recover from an injury, but it’s also a great strategy for avoiding injury too. Stretching and pre-workout warmups are smart, easy ways to prepare your muscles for an intense workout, protecting them in the process.
“One of the biggest reasons that people get injured with exercise is because they are not moving properly,” Eric says. “You’ve got to prepare your body before you start moving, and that is super, super important.”
Watch him discuss all things foam rolling and foam rollers in the video below, or if you need some motivation to stick to your fitness resolutions read this article.