When your muscles are tight, they aren’t set at the normal muscle length-tension relationship. To prevent future muscle tightness, and to relieve present tightness, you must foam roll. If you don’t foam roll, you may not be engaging your muscles correctly during your training. Other muscles may also try to take over the muscles that you’re trying to work when they’re too tight.
Foam rolling can help relax your muscles so that you can actively stretch and strengthen your muscles properly. When the muscles aren’t stretched and activated properly, you put yourself at greater risk of injury and muscle imbalances.
Below are 5 foam rolling exercises that can help loosen the tension in your chest, back, shoulders, and traps.
1. Chest Foam Rolling
When our shoulders slouch forwards as we sit, our chest may be tight. We then proceed pushing movements during training, which only makes the chest muscles even tighter. Other than poor posture, tightness in the chest can cause shoulder, back, and neck pain. To roll out your chest, use a foam ball. Lay on it against the ground, facing down. Starting right beside your shoulder joint and below the collarbone, roll slowly by moving your arm overhead and then back down. Think of the motion you would use when making a snow angel during winter months. Continue this motion as you move a little more toward your sternum. Hold it when you feel the tension, and don’t forget to breathe through it. Start with one side, and then continue the same way on the opposite side to smooth out any imbalances.
2. Lat Foam Rolling
Lats can become tight from working at a desk for majority of the day. This can lead to injuries from your neck to your hips (believe it or not!). Since your lats work along with your glutes, your lower body can fall into risk for injury. To roll out your lats, you may use a foam roll, ball, or even a tennis ball. Begin by lying on one side with the foam roll under that armpit. Bring your arm up overhead and start to rock back and forth by rotating your chest toward the floor and then back up towards the ceiling. This will help target near your ribs and back as you roll. Be careful that you don’t arch your lower back when you roll down.
3. Thoracic Extension
Your back is in flexion if you’re slouching forward constantly. This constant flexion position may lead to neck, shoulder, upper and lower back pain. Place a foam roller on the ground and lie on it perpendicular to the middle of your back. Placing the roller any lower down your back will put you at risk for hyperextending you back. Carefully extend your back over the roller. While extending, reach your hands over past your head and relax your head and neck. Focus on extending the mid and upper parts of your back, and try to touch your hands to the ground during extension. You can repeat this relaxing and extending motion as many times until you feel tension lessen.
4. Trap/Upper Back Foam Rolling
Your traps may be overactive if your shoulders are hunched over when you sit too much without any back support. This constant tightness can prevent the bigger muscles in your back from properly engaging. This makes it more difficult to lift heavier weight during lifts. Since your traps are a smaller muscle, using a foam ball will work more efficiently.
Standing up against a wall will help hold this in place as you move around. Begin this foam rolling exercise by standing up with your back up against the wall, with the foam ball in between your traps and the wall. While pressing into the foam ball, roll the ball up toward the top of your trap from the base of your neck. Hold on to any tight spots. You might have to gently rotate your body to target more of your traps. Eventually, you can use the same technique to gently roll out your shoulder blades. This will also help with mobility. Switch to the other side once the tension lessens enough. It’s important to roll out both sides of your body to get rid of any muscle imbalances.
5. Spine Roll Release
Begin by lying your spine up against the foam roller lengthwise. Place your arms on the ground at your sides to stabilize yourself. Gently rock yourself back and forth, from side to side, to allow the foam roller to massage the muscles surrounding your spine. Rolling these muscles out can help re-mobilize your spinal erectors. Improvement in posture may also be another benefit.
Take Home Message
Stress, fatigue, and anxiety can cause the body to contract muscles. Over time, bands ad knots can form within the muscle tissue. These tight spots are called “trigger points.” If these spots aren’t released, they will worsen with time and cause muscle imbalances. Just because you find that you’re tight in one specific area, doesn’t mean that you should only use a foam roller in that one spot.
A certain muscle may feel sore from a surrounding muscle that is tight. For an example, shoulder pain may be caused by tight muscles in your arms or back. You may not correct the problem by only rolling out your shoulders. Other muscles could be tight, which pulls on a different muscle where we feel sore. Foam rolling can be an excellent way to avoid and prevent injury in your training. Give it a go and see the benefits it brings.