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Foam Rolling – BBC Radio guest speaker

I thoroughly enjoyed being on BBC Radio Norfolk talking to Chris about foam rolling on ‘National Foam Rolling Day’ and having support from Richard. It was a good opportunity to be able to make people more aware of the importance of looking after yourself both before and recovering from exercise.

What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is a brilliant self- treating technique that can help to alleviate muscle tension and soreness. If you’re not familiar with this method, it is quite literally a foam cylinder which is used slowly over the muscles that need some attention. It is similar to a technique we would use in clinic called myofascial release. However myofascial release is more effective and a great soft tissue technique to reduce fascial tightness and restrictions.

How to do Foam Roller Effectively

  • Moving slow is best when it comes to foam rolling, as this will be more successful and allow the muscles to relax. It will also enable you to feel where may need more time. For example, if you were to foam roll your quadricep muscles (thigh) and feel an area of tension, then you can spend more time here.
  • You don’t want this pressure to be too severe or painful, you just want the pressure to be moderate. This may feel like slight discomfort, similar to the sense you get when you are in a deep stretch. It is also sometimes hard to know where really needs it. Many people apply very deep painful pressure to their IT band for example, which is a thick fibrous layer of fascia on the lateral side of the thigh. However, this cannot really be stretched, so it may be better to work on the upper hip where the tensor fascia latae muscle (TFL) is and the glutes (bum muscles).
  • You can also rock slowly side to side moving the body with the roller. Breathing plays a huge role here, which is just as important when you stretch. Deep long exhales will help promote this relaxation, better oxygen delivery and make foam rolling more effective. This will also help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as ‘rest and digest’. This is one of two systems within the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic system overall regulates vital bodily functions such as, respiratory rate, heart rate, metabolic processes, urinary control, basal body temperature and blood pressure. The sympathetic nervous system also known as ‘fight and flight’, used to prepare the body for more energizing or stressful situations.
  • It works best on larger areas, such as your legs (quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings) and your upper thoracic region of the back but do this with caution. If you’re ever unsure, ask a personal trainer or other health and fitness professional. YouTube is great but be mindful that not everyone knows what they’re doing. A physical therapist named ‘DOC JEN FIT’ provides good professional videos.
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When to do it & how it works?

  •  Foam rolling can be used before exercise to help promote blood flow and warm up the muscles. It can also be very beneficial after exercising during a cool down, which has been proven to reduce the effects of ‘DOMS’- meaning Delayed onset muscle soreness, from microtears from overloading the muscle or doing something new with your body. So often people will lightly go over an area of their body much too lightly for very little time at all. This is fine when you first try out foam rolling but ideally moderate pressure for 30-60 seconds over a muscle group slowly is best, daily would be great if people could find the time.
  • The negative outlook is that it does not lengthen or stretch the muscles (even though it may feel similar), nor do they break down adhesive bonds and scar tissue, but foam rolling does help to provide a relaxation response to the muscles. Hands on therapy is required to really improve muscular tension and deal with these trigger points but this is a great technique to stick to as self-treatment.
  • It can also be used even if you are not one for exercising as it encourages blood flow, relaxation of the muscles and can help improve range of motion. However, I believe there is exercise out there for everyone with the gift to be able to do so. Moving our body is a privilege, so I think finding something that you enjoy is the key.
  • Sometimes it is hard to get into a position that feels comfortable when foam rolling, especially if mobility and flexibility is limited. These can always be altered. For example, if you wanted to roll out your calf muscles, you could use your arms to help support the body to take the load off slightly.
  • Foam rolling is definitely not advised if you have previously suffered with a break, rupture tear of any serious damage to the body. It is important to ask your GP if you are concerned. If you are pregnant, it may be beneficial for relaxing the tissues, but again it is always best to check with the doctor.

Which Foam Roller?

  • Smooth foam rollers to begin- normally slightly cheaper than a textured roller. These are great for light pressure and getting used to foam rolling.
  • Textured rollers-More advanced- These are generally slightly more effective at targeting the muscles, as they have ridges in them and can go a bit deeper. Bear in mind, this should remain moderate pressure.
  • Massage balls, tennis balls and smaller foam rollers can be good to help smaller areas and have a similar effect for example, the base of the feet to aid with plantar fasciitis.

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