You may have seen people rolling on brightly coloured, oddly shaped rolls and thought to yourself what is that? You may be an avid foam roller and can’t go a day without using your roller.
Taking care of your aches, pains and mobility can all be done with foam rolling. Their use has increased within the last 10 years with various types of foam rollers and mobility tools coming on to the market – all with their own specific benefits.
Foam rolling is the use of a roll shaped tool to compress and self-massage your body’s soft tissue. It’s proving popular with people from all walks of life from professional athletes, hobbyist runners and gym goers. Their versatility means they can be used for warmups, cool downs, improving mobility and because they are compact and transportable, they can be taken with you to wherever you need them.
Below we go through a list of all different types of foam rollers and mobility tools which will help you to achieve your fitness and mobility goals.
What parts of the body do foam rollers target?
The answer is, any part of your body which has soft tissue on it!
However, it’s not just soft tissues – foam, rolling is great for the joints also.
Due to the diversity of exercises you can perform with them, there really isn’t any limitation on what it can be used for.
The most common areas to foam roller do tend to be the upper and lower back and the legs. Smaller parts of the body can be targeted with smaller tools.
Foam rollers are great for the spine – they help to apply pressure to the spine to extend it and mobilise stiff joints. They do this by providing a firm surface to apply pressure without too much discomfort. Lower back and upper back stiffness and mobility problems can be assisted with foam rolling.
What tissues do foam rollers benefit?
Foam rollers are highly beneficial to help mobilise spinal joints. Stiffness developed in the office or from excessive exercise. Moving the spine over the roller helps to move your spinal joints in to better positions and improve the amount of movement that a spinal joint has.
The more frequently that you do the foam rolling to your spine – it will help to reduce overall feelings of stiffness and help to reduce any restriction. This is why they are great mobility tools as they keep your joints mobile.
Soft tissues of the body potentially get the greatest benefits from rollers.
Skeletal muscle which obviously operates your body movements can gain many benefits from consistent rolling. Rolling on painful tissue can help to reduce the amount of pain that you feel – this is common with next day soreness. Rolling muscle can also help to relax tissue and temporarily lengthen it – this can be beneficial in many ways. By switching off muscle and allowing it to lengthen temporarily – this can help to improve the amount of flexibility and range of motion you may have available at the targeted area.
Rolling on soft tissue can also improve circulation to the area. This is extremely important as blood is the source of oxygen and energy to your soft tissues for performance and healing.
Other soft tissues are ligaments and tendons which can be treated with the foam roller. Rolling over these tissues can help to reduce the amount of pain that you feel in them and also help to improve circulation. Tendons can restrict movement of joints and reduce your range of motion when they are feeling tight. Foam rolling and mobility work can be a great way to detention them and allow an improvement in your movement.
Targeting soft tissues before sessions and preparing your body in the right way is a great way to warm up and help to improve the quality of the session you are about to u8nderttake.
This is usually a plastic roll covered in foam with different surface types which have varying amounts of soft or more firm materials which you use to roll on. There is a selection of surfaces from smooth to some which have more of an uneven surface. The reason for this to provide a different type of massage and release effect, a smooth one may be more gentle like a Swedish massage, but others aim to give the same effect as a deep tissue or more intense massage like thai style massage. The type of roller really depends upon your reason for using it and the aim of your sessions.
Vibrating Foam Roller
As above but with a battery and vibrating function to assist the foam rolling technique. The added vibration can give increased intensity to your foam roll and if you have a particularly sore area or stubborn tightness this can help to work in to it more effectively than a normal roller.
These are different shaped tools to target different body parts and areas with the focus on improving mobility and addressing localised pain. These tools are more specific to body area and the structures you want to address.
- Handheld rollers: great for targeting quads and the I.T band – they come in different sizes and can be great for treating different body parts.
- Spinal: with a gap for your spine to help address the muscles either side of your back.
- Mobility Balls: perfect for working in to tight, sore glutes! Typically they are similar to hockey balls.
Why Should We Foam Roll?
Foam rolling can be performed for a variety of reasons, 2 of the most common uses and indications for foam rolling are when you feel soreness and tightness in the muscles or when you are wanting to increase the amount of movement in a joint or body area by de tensioning muscles so you can move further as well as the additional benefit of increasing the circulation to the area you are rolling.
When we apply pressure to muscles and fascia with a foam rolling tool it compresses the soft tissues and helps the muscles to relax. Typically when we feel sore and tight this can be caused by the fascia (connective tissue that sits around your muscle) becoming restricted – a great way to manage this to use a roller to help relax the facia and provide more movement in to the soft tissues. Rolling the soft tissues which sit around the joint can temporarily lengthen the muscle and allow a greater range of movement to aid in your warmup or cool down and recovery regime.
Another reason for muscle soreness can be delayed onset muscle soreness – typically felt following a hard workout/session the next day or two after. When we foam roll for pain reasons it may be feel a little uncomfortable to begin with but then this should ease as you continue and give some relief. This happens because it helps to switch off our pain sensors which send the discomfort to our brain temporarily – this is particularly handy if you need to relieve muscle aches and pains before you exercise as it may allow you to feel more comfortable and perform better. When looking for the 1% increases in performance that can make all the difference – this is something extra you can be doing.
Injury reduction is another great reason to foam roll. Having a particularly restricted area of the body which we don’t take care of – this can lead to poor engagement of the muscles in the area and can possibly lead to poor control, activation and ultimately, injury. An example of this would be – tightness of the quads can result in poor stability and control of the knee; if you start to engage in an exercise where you require the quads to stabilise and keep the knee safe and they aren’t up to the job – you could suffer an injury to your ligaments, meniscus or tendons. Whilst a roller is great for prevention of injuries – if you are injured – a foam roller is a great tool with many uses for rehabilitation.
Foam rolling isn’t always about sporting performance, desk workers can use the foam roller for effective neck and upper back pain prevention and management. Flexed, hunched, slouched postures can be managed with the use of foam roller exercises to help us extend the thoracic and cervical spine and relieve pain we may have built up during a work day. If you can and are able to – keep a roller at the office and take care of yourself while you work!
A great simple exercise is placing the roller on the floor and lying with it placed just underneath our shoulder blades – when we extend over this it helps to relieve tightness in the thoracic spine and muscles of the upper back whilst extending our neck.
Another great option for desk workers is the use of a small neck massager, ball or other mobility tools to keep neck and shoulder problems at bay.
Desk based work is one of the worst things for our body as it prevents regular movement of our bodies. This denies our joints the lubrication it needs and our muscles and tendons the ability to function. This is what leads to pain development.
When Should We Foam Roll?
The best answer to this question is anytime! As mentioned before, it depends on the aim and what you feel like as to why you would foam roll.
Prior to exercise is a great time – reducing pain, improving movement in order to improve your performance? Post session to promote better recovery by helping relax muscles following exercise and helping to reduce the effect of any potential DOMS or lactic acid build up.
Foam rolling and mobility tools can be used in the home as part of a regular mobility regime if you have a certain target or goal which you are aiming for. For example if you have tightness in your glutes or reduced hip range of motion which could be improved by foam rolling then working on this at home combined with mobility exercises could really help you achieve that goal.
As mentioned above – the workplace can be an unforgiving place – keep a roller handy at work to help prevent desk postures and work related upper back and neck pain! Your foam rolling technique should be performed with slow and controlled movements, and you should focus on each muscle or area for approximately 20-30 seconds. You can foam roll as often as you like, there is no recommended frequency – if it feels good and it’s benefiting you – do as much as you please.
Foam rolling is a great addition to anyone’s routine, from the elite sports person to the desk worker. Use it to manage your aches, prevent injury, for warm up or cool downs and to build a regular routine to help achieve your mobility and maintenance goals.
Keep an eye out for our blog on our best recommended foam rollers!