Foam Rolling 101
Myo-Fascial Release: What is it and what’s the big deal?
By VIDA Personal Trainer Joe O’Connor
Whenever you walk into the gym you see someone doing it. Contorted in weird positions, a Styrofoam log underneath their leg, rolling across the floor with the same painful expression on their face that Skins fans make when Dan Snyder makes another bad decision. (Sorry, Pats Nation right here.)
Sports jokes aside, what on earth is this guy doing?! Its foam rolling, my friend! Or to get even more scientific with some big SAT words it’s specifically called “self-myo-fascial release” and you should be doing it too! So, what is it?
Hit me with the science *Thomas Dolby shouts SCIENCE from somewhere in the 80s.*
Your body’s organs are covered in a thin spider-web like tissue called fascia, more specifically your muscles are covered in myo-fascia (myo = muscle), unfortunately this doesn’t make you more like Spiderman, but actually very prone to tightness and pain, especially with the high stress city culture we all live in. Fascia’s job is to keep our muscles as comfortable as my mid-morning nap on a Penthouse pool day bed. But, because we live in such a high stress, low mobility environment with virtually no airplane leg room, cramped cubicles and the ever-infuriating DC traffic, we tend to tense up quite a lot. That’s a one-way ticket to Painsville for our muscles, and when our muscles are in pain, working out can seem like torture.
When it comes to muscle pain we can essentially divide it into two categories; the feeling of being tight, or the muscle actually being tight. When the muscle itself is tight and the fibers cannot physically stretch and relax, this refers to the muscle tone. The other type of tightness comes from your nervous system putting a constant halt on your actions like the Red Line during single tracking. Your muscle fibers themselves may not be that tight, but because there’s so much tension and stress built up your brain decides this is a no-go. Because myo-fascia is the home to so many of your muscle nerve endings, foam rolling and other forms of myo-fascial release are so crucial to any exercise routine.
This is also why foam rolling can be painful, because you are putting those nerve endings under a lot of pressure, nonetheless, good pressure, but be forewarned it may hurt a bit. Just imagine Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday screaming “Every inch counts!” that always helps me get through it. Remember that with that pain comes relief, and studies have shown that foam rolling will increase your range of motion. Better ROM means better form, which ultimately leads to better gains.
Okay, I get the science behind it, but which roller do I use? With a myriad of colors and shapes; blue’s my favorite color so should I stick with that? The one with the spikes looks like torture device out of 13th century England, unsure about that one… With most foam rollers keep in mind; the lighter the color, the softer the foam. White is your softest, so if you’ve never done it before try that, then move to yellow, blue and finally black. The spiked rollers are great for hitting specific pressure points and really dig into the areas where you’re feeling the most amount of muscle pain; kind of like a deep tissue massage as opposed to a Swedish.
Speaking of massages! That’s another form of myo-fascial release. Getting a regular massage once or twice a month is insanely healthy for your sore muscles; not to mention being a great mental stress reliever. Lucky for us, we have Aura spa in the building for the most convenient post-workout massage appointment ever!
Alright, you’ve convinced me, but when should I foam roll and should I do my whole body or specific areas; like legs on leg day?
Many different studies have been done to decide this question. If you take 15 minutes out of your day, before or after lifting; upon waking or before you go to bed, you will be well on your way to loosening those muscles. As a trainer, I recommend foam rolling your entire body, the benefits are countless.
Man, all this rolling is making me hungry, maybe a Spicy Tuna roll… or a cinnamon roll… yes, puns are also a specialty of mine. Happy rolling!