Why foam rolling should be a part of your workout routine
Finding a favourite go-to exercise routine is key in order for it to be easy, realistic and sustainable. However, in order for us to develop and not to get too bored after a while, it is also important that we challenge ourselves and change activities from time to time. We don’t want our muscles to become too familiar and comfortable with our exercises, and we also tend to forget about the time when we are busy doing something new, rather than doing an exercise for the 105th time. So, if you’re in the mood for some new ideas and inspiration, as well as challenging your body a little extra with some added balance and muscle burn, adding foam rolling to your workout routine is definitely something to consider.
You might also be someone who struggles with tightness and sore muscles, and even though you stretch your body after a workout session, it still feels like you need a full body massage afterwards? Contracted muscles, as well as a heavy and stiff feeling in the body, are very common, not just for people who exercise a lot, but for everyone. Every day activities, such as walking around, sitting down and even gravity affect our bodies, and especially our fascia (a thin layer wrapping around our muscles), which can start to feel tight and cause discomfort if we don’t “hydrate” it by massaging it and making it smooth and flexible.
Hence, foam rolling can help us with both upgrading our workout game and making sure our muscles and fascia feel flexible and smooth, free from tension and pain. Sounds like the perfect tool to add to our at-home-gyms in 2020, in order for us to stay healthy and strong, as well as relaxed and feeling good.
THE BENEFITS OF FOAM ROLLING
Although it is often seen as just a “stretching tool” and alternative way to stretch your muscles after a workout, a foam roller does so much more than just help you relax your muscles. Foam rolling boosts circulation and lubrication to the body’s tissues and organs. It helps to “hydrate” and “lubricate” the joints, which helps reduce inflammation in the body. It gives the bone a better support system and it also improves blood flow and helps to oxygenate the blood. An increased flow of energy is also often experienced, and although it can feel uncomfortable at first, letting the foam roller release muscle tension and pain can feel incredible. Applying pressure to certain pinpointed spots on ligaments, tendons, and muscles will stimulate the tissue and enhance optimal recovery and performance. Moreover, it will also improve our range of motion and flexibility, as well as improve our movements in general, since hydrated body tissue easier move past one another with less friction. This also means that we decrease our risk of injury, as well as recovery time if we have already been injured.
In addition, it also boosts lymphatic drainage, which help flush toxins from the body. Our lymphatic system is almost like our body’s “garbage disposal”, hence it is very important to take care of. However, it is often forgotten about and “blockages” in the lymphatic system can make us feel tired, heavy, swollen, and even make us sick. Thus, a well-functioning lymph is essential for optimal health and immunity.
Foam rolling also acts as a tool for myofascial release (in pretty much in the same way as a deep tissue massage does), which means that it is able to press on tight and stiff areas in the body over a little longer period of time, which makes blood flow to the area and helps smooth out and hydrate the fascia. Stimulating the fascia is so important for a healthy and functioning body. But why?
WHAT IS FASCIA?
The fascia is a “web”, a thin layer of connective tissue, surrounding our muscles and connecting them to the bones and joints. When our fascia is in a healthy state, it is flexible and smooth. However, injuries, surgeries, inflammation, emotional trauma, as well as just the effects of gravity can damage it so it becomes stiff, thick, and tight. When it loses its flexibility and suppleness, it can pull the body out of alignment, as well as restrict the lymph (which can make toxins get trapped in the system). It also make is feel tight and stiff in our bodies, which in turn hinder us from moving in the most optimal way.
Although our fascia is thin and malleable, it is largely responsible for the structure in our bodies and has a vital impact on our posture. It affects the shape of our body so much that if we build a healthier fascia in our body, it can make us grow up to 2-3 cm taller in height!
Our fascia also has a connection with our feelings and is where pain originates from and is communicated to our brain since our lymph nodes and nerves lie in it. And since emotions and fascia are so closely connected, our fascia can therefore hold emotional stress and tension that come from e.g. trauma, stress, lifestyle, and emotional state. This results in blockages and tightness, which in turn can lead to stagnation, inflammation, that can eventually lead to illness. This is not studied in the Western medical schools, but is an important and ancient learning in Eastern medicine. The flow of energy and life force, also called “chi” in Eastern medicine, needs to flow freely within the body. And when chi is blocked, that’s when dis-ease and illness can occur.
HOW TO USE IT
Hence, using a foam roller is incredible for both your muscles and fascia before or after a workout, in order to soften and release tightness and contracted areas. It is key to prevent injuries, as well as feeling flexible and smooth in the body. Using the foam roller as a tool for self-massage is perfect, and ending a day with a session in order to unwind and release tension in the body, is so relaxing. You simply lay on it and roll back and forth, just using your body weight and letting the foam roller do the work. It is especially great to use for your lower back and thighs, and these areas often feel a bit extra tight. Just remember to breathe through the discomfort that might appear (it is easy to unintentionally hold your breath when massaging the body like this), and avoid rolling too quickly. Smooth and slow motions are key in order to really soften the body tissue. Moreover, foam rolling also decreases stress, calms our nervous system and helps stabilise and reduce the level of cortisol (our stress hormone) in the body.
In addition, the foam roller can also be used during a workout, and is especially great for Pilates style workouts. You can lay on it for balance while you do exercises on your back, such as sit-ups or lifting lighter weights with your arms. Another great core exercise with a foam roller is to use it in plank, and put your feet on it for extra balance and burn. Moreover, you can also place it under your ankle when you are in a low lounge step and let it roll underneath your back leg while you bend your forward leg up and down. It can also be used to hold and lift during back lifts, or place your feet on it when doing hip lifts. Use your imagination and be creative, and you will be surprised how this tool can be used in so many different ways. The benefits of foam rolling are many, and on top of that, it is inexpensive and easy to store. Who else is getting one today already?