Foam rolling is something that many people may not understand. In fact, a lot of people do not know the benefits that a foam roller can offer nor do they understand how to properly utilize the tool. With different options of rollers being on the market which one is right for your purposes? Today I will go over the benefits of foam rolling and how to properly utilize this piece of equipment on the legs.
The Benefits of Foam Rolling
Let me simply begin by going over some of the benefits of foam rolling, because who wants to use something if there is no benefit right? “Regular exercise and performance can result in micro trauma, which is a small amount of damage to the muscle (7). The resulting inflammatory response may lead to fascia scar tissue over time, which in turn may lead to muscular dysfunctions (7,10,17).” (2). In this study the scientists pitted planking against form rolling to see if there was any difference in fatigue, soreness and performance. “Fatigue after foam rolling was significantly (p # 0.05) less than after the subjects performed planking.” (2) this is probably the biggest use of foam rolling, to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
The idea of a foam roller is that it can simulate effect of a massage (1). Some also claim that it helps remove Lactic Acid from the muscle (1), however this is most likely a misinterpretation as Lactate (aka. Lactic acid) is actually converted back into pyruvate naturally by the body and is still a useable energy source. Also, even though heightened blood lactate can be an indicator of fatigue, lactate levels are reduced to normal levels relatively fast even though muscle soreness can last well beyond that time. Because of this, my argument would be that foam rolling helps to reduce muscle tightness and work out knots and that this is the main benefit in terms of reduction of soreness. I agree with the statement that “…the fascia and muscle tissue can become stuck together” (3) and that this is the issue that foam rolling actually helps alleviate. Whenever you are rolling, make sure that you support yourself properly, so if you are rolling your legs, support your upper body with your arms.
Foam Rolling the IT Band
To utilize a foam roller on your IT band you want to lie on your side with the foam roller starting at the hip. Slowly move your body over the roller so that it goes down toward the knee. Do this slowly, paying attention to any spots that seem especially tender or that feel like there is a “knot” within them. Take extra time and focus on these spots, either rolling over them multiple times or by allowing the “knot” to sit on the roller. This should help to alleviate and relax the muscle, once again, similar to a massage. Be sure not to allow the roller to put excess pressure on vulnerable areas like your knee as this could result in injury.
Foam Rolling the Quads
The process is essentially the same for the quadriceps: lie on your stomach with the roller beginning at the hip and slowly roll it down your thigh. Focus on any spots that seem to be more sore, tight, or knotted than regular. Roll down to the top of the knee but remember not to roll over the knee. This can actually help alleviate knee pain as tight quadriceps can actually pull on the knee and cause pain and other issues.
Foam Rolling the Hamstrings
To roll out the hamstrings, sit on your buttocks with the roller directly at the bottom of the “cheek”. Slowly roll down the back of the leg, focusing on any tender or sore spots just as if you were rolling any other muscle. This may help with lower back pain if you tend to have very tight hamstrings and glutes. These muscles are part of the posterior chain and can pull on the lower back and create issues, which is why it can be beneficial to utilize rolling as well as stretching on this body part.
Foam Rolling the Calves
When rolling out the calves start just under the knee and roll down to the Achilles tendon, remember that you are rolling out the muscle and not the tendon. Be careful and aware of allowing the roller to put you in any vulnerable places that could result in injury or exacerbation of a current injury.
This is really a very basic introduction to foam rolling for the legs, obviously you can use a foam roller on many different body parts. I do recommend staying away from rolling part that put you in vulnerable positions such as the lower back. Hopefully this is a helpful introduction to help get you “on a roll” to a very beneficial and lifelong improvement in your fitness journey.