← Back to news

Roll With It: A Foam Rolling Overview

Did you know National Foam Rolling Day is a real thing?

True story! May 11. We support ANY day in which the goal is to educate people on the benefits of foam rolling.

Recently, Andy Fenack was featured in a story on thetailife.com about the benefits of self-myofasical release (SMR is the fancy term for foam rolling).

Here’s an outline of Andy’s interview with reporter Janell Hickman. In addition to the story, the interview below answers many of the common questions we get about foam rolling.

Can you demystify the term of self-myofascial release? What going on in your body when you do this?
Myofascia refers to muscles and fascial structures, the soft tissue that attaches to and envelopes all of our muscles. Self-myofascial release (SMR) is utilizing tools (e.g. foam rollers and trigger point balls) to improve circulation and increase the mobility of these soft tissue structures.

Is there a difference between self-myofascial release and trigger-point therapy?
Trigger point therapy is a form of SMR where you would use a device smaller than a foam roller (I love the lacrosse ball for this) for a more direct approach on a specific part of a muscle group, for example a “trigger point” or a soft tissue restriction in your calf muscle. You could rest your calf muscle on top of a lacrosse ball then gently move your ankle to change the length of the muscle while the ball stays still. Then move the ball to a new spot and repeat. Another option is actually taking the ball in your hand and using it to apply pressure to a muscle such as the pectoralis. This is great to do after a long day at the desk when the front of your chest gets tight from sitting at the computer for a prolonged amount of time.

Wait, why does this process hurt at first? Am I doing it wrong?
I find this to be the #1 reason people avoid foam rolling. If SMR is very painful and you’re responding by tensing every part of your body, chances are it’s less effective than a more gentle approach. The idea is to increase circulation and prepare the body for movement or assist in the recovery process, so an intense approach is not always the best. If a particular section of the muscle is really sensitive, then lighten the pressure or move to another part of that muscle and work there. It’s all connected so you’ll benefit from working on a neighbor. Move slowly, use deep breathing strategies to relax, and in time you’ll be able to go deeper into the muscle if necessary.

How can you effectively tell the difference between a knot and a tense muscle?
You might not be able to specifically determine the difference with a foreign object such as a foam roller or a trigger point ball, but either a knot or a tense muscle could benefit from increasing circulation. Work the area gently and move the joint that the muscle attaches to to change the length of that soft tissue.

Other than soreness, how else can tight/tense muscles negatively affect your workout?
Think of a knot in a rope. A soft tissue restriction would limit the ability for that muscle to go through the full range of motion, and potentially increase tension and pull on another section of that same muscle group. We are bones swimming in soft tissue and water so clearing restrictions can allow us to swim freely through clean waters.

Do certain types of workouts or sports require more self-massage than others?
It depends on the individual’s adaptation to the activity. I’m mostly a runner, but if I go rock climbing, chances are I’ll be much more sore than my usual running workouts, and likely in muscle groups in my forearms and shoulders that do not get sore when I run. Those are days I want to take care of my soft tissue so I can get back to whatever workout I choose next! This would also apply to variations in duration or intensity. I always try to spend some quality SMR time before and after key workouts, be they long in duration or high in intensity. Any restriction in soft tissue is going to limit my ability to complete the workout at desired pace and impair recovery time.

How frequently should you incorporate foam rollers into your post-workout routine?
I like to encourage my patients to spend 10 minutes a day several times a week foam rolling. It doesn’t always have to be after the workout. Foam rolling pre-workout can help prepare the body for movement by improving circulation and extensibility of soft tissues. Pick one muscle group to focus on and spend 3 to 5 minutes on each side, e.g. 3 minutes on the right quad and 3 on the left. Follow that with a dynamic stretch for my quads and they’ll thank me later!

My gym offers a trigger point stretching class, is this worthwhile?
Absolutely! I LOVE to hear that gyms are incorporating this into their client education. The actual fitness class or personal training session might not have time to include SMR, and learning how and when to incorporate this on your own time is a great thing!

What common mistakes do most people make when they use foam rollers?
I often see people foam rolling very fast and intensely, which really defeats the purpose altogether. Think of getting a massage; would you want the therapist moving really quickly during the body work? NYC can be an intense place, where our workouts and even recovery sessions are really hard and exhausting. Foam rolling should not fall into this category. It’s a time to relax, breathe and transition to the next daily task.

I’m a fan of deep tissue or sports massages—should I skip these in favor of using a foam roller? How can I say no to that?!?!?
It’s all part of your wellness but with different objectives. There are techniques that a therapist can utilize with their hands that are not possible with a foam roller. Foam rolling is a short preparation or recovery from an actual workout, whereas a massage would be a more focused and prolonged session. I would time the massage differently than a short foam roll session, i.e. not the day before a big race as deep tissue work can leave you a bit sore for a day or two (and then feeling GREAT after that).

Interested in the current research on foam rolling? This article reviews the current research.