Foam rolling has become a huge component in all circles of athletics. That goes from your weekend warrior right up to your professional athletes. It is a huge part of my system in the gym also. Everyone who trains with me goes through a foam rolling routine before they do any thing else.
But what are you actually doing when you foam roll?
Why is foam rolling so important?
Some people like to call it self-myofacial release, but is that what we are really doing?
It is impossible for foam rolling to be self-myofacial release.
First of all we must look at what fascia is.
Fascia is a continuous layer that covers every muscle from head to toe. It is like a layer of insulation surrounding the muscle that gives the muscle its shape and allows the muscles to slide over each other.
If you think of it as an electric cable, each and every wire is covered with insulation. That way the wires do not cross signals and cause a short circuit. Your muscles are the same. Fascia is the insulation that surrounds each muscle and allows them to work in the way they are meant to.
Now if fascia gets stuck it restricts movement and causes tightness in areas of the body. This can lead to injuries if not treated properly. These pieces of fascia that get stuck together are the knots we find in the muscle.
The next question from here then is:
How do we treat this fascia that has become stuck?
Rolfing is a technique designed specifically to deal with this exact problem.
Rolfing is a technique developed by Ida Rolf. In this treatment and all other fascia release technique subsequent to Rolfing the fascia has to be stretched and pulled apart.
This is a far cry different to what we are doing when we are foam rolling.
To further this and help you develop a clearer image in your minds eye let me explain.
I want you to imagine a ball of cotton wool as fascia or better yet get a ball of cotton wool and hold it in your hand.
Now what I want you to do is place your hands together and squeeze them as hard as you can for a second or two and then let go. Now take a look a look at the cotton wool ball and tell me if it has changed in any way?
Probably not, maybe it is a slightly different shape than what it was before you stated but all in all it is still stuck together.
So how then can we release fascia by sitting or rolling on a foam roller and simply applying pressure onto a fixed point on the muscle?
Quite simple we cant.
Now take the cotton ball and pinch both ends of it between your thumb and finger now imagine your thumb and finger as your muscles connected by the fascia between them. The fascia is stuck and will not allow much movement so to release it you need to separate the muscles as much as possible so the fascia is stretched and forced to break.
Now that is fascia release.
So again what are we actually doing with foam rolling?
As I said earlier foam rolling is a very valuable tool in any training program and is one that I use all the time in my gym but it's uses and benefits should not be overstated.
- It promotes healing and recovery in the muscles by increasing blood flow
- The increased blood flow also helps warm the muscles more
- Keeps you on the training ground and out of the physios office
- Helps improve movement quality
- Stimulates the parasympathetic (relaxed) side of the nervous system
So yes foam rolling should be an integral part of your training program but know what you are using it for and know what its limitations are also.