When you mention foam rollers to people you usually get one of two responses: “Yeah, those are great! They make such a big difference” or you get some mumbling and cursing as the person walks away. Let’s be up front about this, foam rolling can hurt more than fixie hipster trying to ride rollers but it can be extremely helpful in improving scar tissue and adhesions, and improving muscle tissue quality.
The Science behind Rolling
Using a foam roller is one way to practice self myofascial release (SMR) and is beneficial due to the autogenic inhibition principle. Autogenic inhibition is when the golgi tendon organ senses that tension within the muscle/tendon structure is becoming too high and to protect the muscle it stimulates the muscle spindles to release, thus lengthening the muscle. Basically this provides the same benefit as passive stretching but also helps improve muscle pliability, and removes soft-tissue adhesions and scar tissue. It is possible to get these same results from active release therapy or massage but those can get pretty expensive to do on a regular basis. Why not just self inflict the pain and reap the benefits at a fraction of the cost?
There are a lot of foam rollers out there but the one that I like the best is The Grid from Trigger Point. It is a hard PVC pipe with a textured foam covering. The alternating texture on the roller allows you to adjust the relative firmness of the roller. To have a little more pressure you just roll on the wider grid, to have a little less you roll on the smaller grid. Since the foam roller has the PVC center it won’t breakdown with use and being only 13″ long it travels really well (I know you will want to take everywhere with you once you start using it!). Basically, this will be the only foam roller you will need to buy.
So now you got the sweetest foam roller known to man, what do you do with it? A coach or personal trainer can help you create a customized program but the kind folks at Trigger Point have posted a lot of movements on their website. Here is also good general sequence provided by Cressey Performance:
It should be noted that there are some instances when using a foam roller would be counter indicated. I would not recommend rolling on areas that have been recently injured, have circulatory problems, chronic pain conditions, or on joints or bony structures.