Stop, Drop and Foam Roll

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Stop, Drop and Foam Roll

Training can be a beautiful dance, one of pushing your limits but knowing when to back off. One that takes everything out of your body but rewards it with proper nutrition. One of demanding it all but honoring rest and recovery.

It’s a delicate dance that can take a toll on your body, which is why it’s important to train with a plan. Part of that plan should include a thorough warmup to increase range of motion around major joints in your body such as the ankles and hips.

Increasing mobility can improve any athletic performance (and will avoid injury) by keeping us fast, nimble and agile. If you’re doing any sort of exercise on a regular basis, you must keep muscles and fascia healthy and mobile, says Under Armour Performance Trainer Dan McDonogh.

A comprehensive warmup is an important part of improving mobility at the start of any workout because it gets your body ready to move by loosening tight muscles and fascia. That’s where the foam roller comes in. The foam roller is a life-saver that helps increase mobility and range of motion. As little as 5–7 minutes at the beginning or end (or at the beginning and end) of your training session will do wonders.

Why Foam Rolling is Good for Muscles

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, or self-massage, that helps remove adhesions in your muscles and connective tissue. It also increases blood flow to your muscles — and this enhanced circulation creates better mobility, which improves performance and aids recovery.

“The goal of foam rolling is to break down tension within muscles to help them relax. When you feel the tenderness reduce by roughly half, this is a good indication that you are meeting your goal and the muscle is relaxing,” says McDonogh.  

Foam-Rolling Techniques

Foam rolling prior to a workout can help decrease muscle density, increase mobility and promote a better, more well-rounded warmup. The major areas to focus on for mobility are the ankles, hips, back, calves and glutes.

Slow and Steady

When you foam roll, make sure you roll along the entire length of the tissue that you are working on. For long muscles such as the quadriceps and adductors, performing longer, sweeping strokes can be more effective than stopping completely over a tender spot. For smaller muscle groups (like the calves and glutes), it’s recommended to focus on short back-and-forth motions.

Trigger Point

This is another method based on the acupressure concept initially recommended by physical therapist Micheal Clark, president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Here, pressure is placed on trigger points or knots, which are areas of increased muscle density. The idea is to apply pressure to injury-prone areas such as hip rotators and the gluteus medius. When you hit a tender spot, roll slowly over it. (The tenderness should decrease with regular foam rolling.) As a guideline, if you find a trigger point, stop on that spot for 20–30 seconds. Breathe and apply pressure as necessary, then roll through.

Finally, it’s important to select a foam roller with a density level that works for you. Some areas are more sensitive than others, so you might choose two different ones.

Injury avoidance and faster recovery drive us to emphasize a dynamic warmup that includes foam rolling. Recovery isn’t just about what happens right after exercising. It’s really any time between workouts, including those 10 minutes before.


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