Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Your best friend but your worst enemy at the same time..

Going on from the pre-habilitation theme of my last post, I want to talk a little bit about foam rollers or if we’re getting technical, the action of self-myofascial release (SMR). Nearly every gym that you enter these days has these strange often brightly coloured rolls of foam that could be mistaken for a rolling pin on steroids. Many are just gathering dust in the corners of commercial establishments but these little anabolic rolling pins are a fantastic tool to improve your body’s tissue quality which can heavily reduce the risk of injury, and although some of the actions may cause a little discomfort, you come off it feeling better and prepared for exercise.

Although I would always support the work of a regular sports massage, this can often prove expensive for certain individuals who also may be governed by time constraints. I like to call foam rolling a cheap-man’s version of a sports massage, because that is literally what you are doing. You’re rolling certain muscles over the roller applying pressure which helps to identify specific areas which may be tender or cause discomfort. These areas are known as trigger points, knots or areas of increased muscle density. I tell my clients to focus on their breathing as the distraction of another stimulus often helps to relinquish some of pain that finding a trigger point results in. The body can be a bit of a mine-field and you definitely know it when you stumble across a trigger point. Common areas of discomfort include the iliotibial (I.T) band:

This is because the fascia in this region is densely encapsulated around the surrounding musculature. Endurance sport athletes and regular runners find this area particularly uncomfortable, especially if they are new to the foam roller and have not been receiving regular massage. The continual pounding on the lower limbs will develop tender areas and trigger point build up. This will also filter down to the calf region where trigger points can be accumulated. Many women who regularly don a pair of high heels will find that they have tights calfs and rolling over these can cause discomfort. It can also be a tough area to roll, particularly for individuals who may lack arm strength as the position forces you to raise your hips and support your own body weight as you roll the roller over the calf musculature.

Foam rollers come in a number of different densities and sizes. They are usually colour coded according to firmness. White being the softest and black being the hardest. If you’re a real sadist and like a roller that gets in really deep, try the rumble roller:

The nodules help to locate and release the deep trigger points but the pressure is significantly firmer than other rollers. When rolling, the speed should be slow and constant and when you locate a specific area of tightness, hold the roller over it and breathe to relax. I also use other pieces of equipment such as tennis balls and I’ve even ventured into a pet shop to purchase a firm dog ball which is perfect to locate specific areas which require further attention and release.

Like all mobility work, foam rolling should be integrated into your regular workouts, whether that’s 3-5 times a week or better still, daily for 5-10 minutes. I use the foam roller with my clients at the start of every session, as I believe that it helps with a smooth transgression into a comprehensive warm-up. It can also be used at the end of a session for regeneration purposes. Although if I am with a client I like to end with some assisted static stretching, depending on what their session involved, but for the majority assisted static stretching acts a good cool-down both physically and neurologically. It’s a time when I like to go through and re-iterate nutritional habits, and recovery protocols with my client.

Below is a short video of how to use a foam roller, apologies for the poor sound, you might have to turn up your speakers a little to hear my dulcet tones!


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