I never noticed all the people lying on the floor in my gym and foam rolling themselves like crazy until my personal trainer made me get on the floor and try it too. Positioning me on my side, he put the foam roller under my thigh, and I started to massage my iliotibial band (IT band). My what? Oh, I had so much to learn.
As I rolled, the mix of pain and pleasure was fascinating. Sometimes it felt like a massage, and sometimes it felt like I was being stabbed in the leg. At one point, he had me pause on the most painful spot and then kick my leg below the knee back and forth. It was breathtakingly painful. “You’re tight,” said my trainer. Indeed.
From there he had me roll all over, and he asked me to do it for at least five minutes before each training session. Glutes. Lats. Hamstrings. Quads. I learned how to roll everything. He advised me to get a foam roller for home, which I did, and ever since then I’ve tried to work it into my workout routine, usually before I do anything else. I consider it part of my warmup, something akin to super-effective stretching. If you want to try it out, just check out a few YouTube videos to see how it’s done. There’s not much to it.
Here are few things I’ve come to understand about foam rolling, one gym trend that truly deserves to endure beyond the usual cycle of hype.
It’s about loosening.
I’m tight. You’re tight. We’re all tight. Foam rolling loosens muscles and fascia and makes you feel more flexible. After a while, by which I mean months, of regular foam rolling, you really will feel more limber.
You can do it anytime during a workout.
I choose to do it before, but you can also do it after or during your workout session.
Take your time.
I’ve seen plenty of people foam roll like speed demons, probably because they find it painful. Don’t do that. Think of it like ironing. Slow, steady, repetitive, up to 30 seconds on each body part that needs some love.
Make it harder.
Once you get the idea, try to make your foam rolling a bit more intense by, say, lifting one leg when you are lying prone and rolling your quads. That will put all your body weight on one quad, and the massage effect will be doubled. Intense! Same thing with your calves. You can roll them side by side, or cross your legs to put more downward pressure on a single calf at a time. Fun.
Choose the right equipment.
The first foam roller I bought was truly just foam, and I didn’t much like it. Later I bought one of the same foam rollers my gym uses. That brand is TriggerPoint, and their products are much more comfortable — and somewhat more expensive — than the plain foam models. They come in two sizes, about one foot long and about two feet long. The two-foot model, which I like, is about $60.