A foam roller is a fairly basic device when it comes to its appearance and design - in these modern times of high-tech gadgets and space-age digital equipment, there's something very appealing about the humble foam roller which can achieve great results, despite its simplicity.
Having said this, just because you don't need a degree in biomechanics to use a foam roller, doesn't mean you can become a master at rolling without understanding a few important do's and don'ts.
If you want to really get the best results from a foam roller, you need to know how to use it the right way - so here's our top 10 Tips for using a foam roller correctly.
TIP 1: Choose the correct density of foam in order to control the level of muscle pressure and tension. Foam rollers are available in various densities or hardness - the main ones being soft, medium and hard. If you are new to foam rolling it is usually a good idea to start with a white softer foam roller until your fascia and muscles become accustomed to the pressure exerted during rolling. Later you can progress to a green or blue medium density roller and finally a black hard density roller.
TIP 2: Try to roll slowly through the movement on a roller. If you roll too quickly there's a real risk of missing a tight spot or adhesion. By moving the roller around your body in a slow and methodical way you will be able to home in accurately on those troublesome knots and trigger points.
TIP 3: Controlled breathing has a big part to play in successful rolling. Holding your breath will not make the tension dissipate, and may add to your discomfort by increasing your blood pressure. Breathing slowly and calmly throughout an exercise will almost certainly help you to push through any tension and get the best out of your rolling experience.
TIP 4: Identify the tight muscles and focus primarily on those. Focus on your tight muscles. You should not simply roll every muscle you come across just for the sake of it, even if it is tempting to do so. Foam rolling lengthened muscles you can sometimes cause more muscle imbalances. If you are in any doubt, it makes sense to get your posture assessed by a professional personal trainer or physical therapist to see what areas you need to focus on.
TIP 5: Avoid rolling any boney areas or joints. Foam rolling is purely for muscle - not bone. This means you should definitely avoid areas like the spine and directly on boney joints like your knees. It's perfectly acceptable to get near to bones to tackle problem muscle areas but you must avoid rolling directly over joints. Putting pressure on bones or joints could lead to injury.
TIP 6: Roll before and after a work out at home or down at your local health club. It is good to get in the habit of using a roller before a workout as part of your warm up, and hopefully address any tight muscles and avoid the risk of injuring yourself. Research has shown that foam rolling - unlike static stretching - has no negative impact on strength during a workout, so foam rolling can be a part of your pre and post exercise routines.
TIP 7: Try to concentrate on the task in hand when you are getting to work on a roller. Don’t start foam rolling and then let your mind wander - try to stay focused on the muscle you are working on. This mind-muscle connection will help you become more aware of any changes in your muscle, and help you identify new areas to work on as you progress through your rolling routine.
TIP 8: As with any exercise at home or in the gym, technique is key. You should strive to perfect your technique and consider getting some advice from a personal trainer or fitness specialist if necessary. When you get tired in a workout your technique can suffer and this may lead to injury - the situation is exactly the same when it comes to foam rolling. Some rolling exercises are quite complex and require you to get into some challenging positions - therefore developing your technique is essential to reduce the risk of hurting yourself.
TIP 9: Establish your pain barrier. What some people may describe as painful may be viewed as nothing more than uncomfortable by others. We know there is a difference between discomfort and pain and that threshold is different for everybody. Discomfort is the body telling us that we’re reaching the point where we need to be careful. Pain is the body telling us to stop. It's crucial to be aware of the difference - get it wrong and you could end up with an injury.
TIP 10: Don't take foam rolling out of context and view it as the be all and the end all - using a roller should be just one part of a wider flexibility program. Don’t neglect other stretching routines. You should carry out other static or dynamic stretches for further joint mobility.