How to Choose Your Foam Roller?
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is essentially a self-myofascial release technique, commonly referred to as self-massage. Myofascial release works by reducing tension and sensitivity in the tissues that surround your muscles. In this way, foam rolling can help to reduce inflammation, motion and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Foam rolling has gained popularity among athletes as part of their warm up and recovery after exercising.
What are the benefits of foam rolling?
Foam rolling has a number of benefits which can be used as part of your warm up or cool down.In a systematic literature review on the effects and use of foam rolling published in the Journal of Body Work and Movement Therapies, the benefits of foam rolling were summarised as:
- Help reduce muscle pain.
- Increase your range of motion.
- Help you to relax.
- Decreased muscle tightness.
These benefits from the foam roller will have outcomes which are similar to those of a deep-tissue massage.
How do I use a foam roller?
Foam rollers can be used as part of your warm up and to aid recovery after a work-out.
Pre-workout, foam rolling can increase your blood flow and improve your range of motion by releasing tight muscles.
Post-workout, foam roll exercises can prevent muscle soreness and support recovery. In an article published by Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that there were positive effects across multiple studies for foam rolling in post exercise recovery. Foam rolling post-workout can help to reduce muscle soreness, supports the post-workout recovery process and can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
We spoke with Colm Fuller, head of physiotherapy at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Dublin, who outlined four steps you should follow when using a foam roller.
- Find the sore muscle.
- Roll or press gently through the length of the muscle, in particular the middle point of the middle point of the muscle and ease into it the roll as comfortable
- It’s not no pain no gain! be sure not to overdo it, the aim is to feel better after using the foam roller.
- Use the foam roller on healthy muscles that have been exercised, stressed or feel fatigued. Do not use a foam roller on an injured muscle, compress bone or joints.
How often should you foam roll?
Colm Fuller also provided us with insights for how often you should foam roll. He highlighted that there are no hard and fast rules as to how often you should foam roll. Foam rolling should be seen as an accompaniment to recovery.
“Recovery is a process that should be taken just as seriously as training or exercise.” says Colm. The two key elements to recovery are diet and sleep, no adjunct will ever replace these two elements for restoring physical status and ensuring that recovery takes place. Since people tend to be poor on time they often seek out fitness aids to help improve their recovery, how often you use the foam roller will depend on how often you exercise.
Colm recommends foam rolling at a time that you are relaxing or recovering from training or exercise.
What foam roller is best?
There are a wide range of foam rollers depending on your needs. They vary by firmness and density, texture, size and shape. Colm Fuller noted that the quality of your foam roller is important. You may want to think about your muscles in three ways.
- Long or short.
- Strong or weak.
- High tone or low tone.
Each of these properties are a continuum, and short muscles do not mean strong or high tone. With foam rollers you are addressing the tone of the muscle, and you are likely having a neurophysiological effect on how the muscle feels - this creates a release feeling and improves the function of the muscle as a result.
So it is important to choose the foam roller that is right for you, this will depend if you are just starting with foam rolling or you are experienced with foam rolling.
What is the best foam roller for beginners?
Foam rollers come in various sizes, density and with different surface textures. If you are just starting out with foam rolling it is important that you choose the foam roller that will not hurt or damage your muscles.
It is recommended that if you are just beginning with foam rolling, that a soft foam roller with a smooth surface will be best suited to you. Soft foam rollers will be easier on your very sore muscles and will not cause as much pain as firm rollers for beginners. Smooth surface foam rollers will enable a softer, more gentle massage with even pressure levels which is why they are perfect for beginners.
It is important to note that foam rolling can feel a little painful at first, especially if you are just starting out and your body is still getting used to it.
When would you use a firm foam roller?
Firm rollers provide increased pressure and intensity, which makes them a great aid for deep-tissue massage. While they are often too firm for beginners, they are more suitable for those who have experience using foam rollers. A textured foam roller comes in different varieties. Grooves can intensify the massage by stimulating blood circulation which helps with sore or tight muscles, for example tight hamstrings. Such patterns can also improve the grip of foam rollers and prevent you from slipping during exercising. The more nubs and spikes foam rollers have, the more intense the massage and the better the targeting of deep muscle tissue and tight knots. Because of the high intensity, this type of foam roller is better suited for you if you are experienced in foam rolling and are already used to more intense pressure and have developed a better practice technique.
What size foam roller should I get?
The length of your foam roller determines which muscle groups can be activated.
Long foam rollers are great to roll out larger muscle groups such as your glutes. Longer foam rollers can target larger muscle groups and provide more stability
Short foam rollers can target smaller muscle groups such as your arms or calves.
Overall, longer foam rollers are more versatile on large muscle groups which make them your perfect go-to foam roller of choice.
For more precise targeting, you might even want to consider massage balls in addition to a foam roller.
In terms of stability, longer foam rollers also offer a larger surface which makes your exercise more stable and supports one-leg roll outs. If you are in need of extra stability, half-rounded foam rollers can be used for rolling out muscle groups and can support leg and foot stretches.
What is the best foam roller to carry with you?
If you are always on the go or love to work out outdoors, the weight of your foam roller may be an important selection factor. Be sure to pay attention to the weight of the foam roller when choosing the right one for you.
Why not try our FizFit foam roller to get started with rolling.
What are the alternatives to foam rollers?
Foam rollers are great and very versatile,however, they might not fulfil your exercise and recovery needs. Have a look at these two alternatives:
Massage sticks are very similar to foam rollers but can be used manually without rolling on the floor. They are great for regulating pressure and target specific areas, especially on your legs and back.
Massage balls are very small, easily portable, and made for precise targeting of tight spots and knots in your back, shoulders or any other body part.