Don't disregard this little cylinder, it's a powerful tool!
Research on foam roll utilization is slim, but here's what we do know. Foam rolling helps to increase blood flow to the muscles you're targeting. An increase in blood flow helps a muscle to move and function more efficiently. For example, if you have low back pain, odds are your butt cheeks (the glutes) are not firing properly (or at all!). Foam rolling over your cheeks can help increase blood flow to the glute muscles allowing you to use them more effectively.
Foam rolling isn't quite stretching, it's not quite a warm up, nor a corrective exercise, but it can help you stay loose, limber, and effective.
Here are five of our favorite foam rolling movements. If you've ever worked a long day and had tension you didn't know how to get rid of, these movements are for you. Start and end your training sessions with some of these foam rolling techniques and you're on your way to a happy body!
Calf Roll Out
Calves can be the culprit for countless ankle, knee, and even hip pains. Do yourself a favor and roll out these calves to help create healthy slack throughout the lower limbs. Starting from the position pictured above, drag your calves across the foam roller, all the way down to the back of your ankle. Drag yourself back to the starting position and repeat for 7 repetitions. Don't feel anything? Try rolling over one calf at a time and rest the leg not being rolled on top of the leg being foam rolled to increase the pressure.
Quads will either be your best friend or worst enemy. Since most of us are confined to a seated position for most of the day, it's easy for our quads to become too tight at one angle and too loose at all the others. This can cause an enormous amount of strain on your knees and/or hips. We want our knees to be mobile, strong, and healthy. Starting in the position pictured above, drag your body over the foam roller. Start with the roller above your knees, roll as high as you can, go back down to the starting position, repeat. Be sure to roll 7 times before moving onto this next one.
One of the most important muscles in the body, butt rarely used well (see what we did there?). If your glutes are not working properly, you're at risk for serious low back, knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, and even neck pain. To live a pain-free life, the glutes need to be working. If you're not sure how to fire up your glutes, foam rolling is a great place to start. This one isn't very complicated, get yourself into the pictured start position and roll over each butt cheek 7 to 8 times.
IT Band Stretch
If you suffer knee pain or hip pain, there is a good chance your IT band is a culprit. The IT band is a thick piece of connective tissue and the odds of one foam roll making a lasting change are slim, but rolling over the IT band can help loosen up the tissue enough to train your hips to fire the right way. When an IT band gets too tight, you may experience a crazy amount of knee pain, so be sure to roll over each IT band 7 times, no matter how...stimulating it may feel.
Just kidding, this is really a Shoulder Smash, but foam rolling your upper back with your arms across your chest helps target specific upper back muscles and can indeed make you look like a vampire. The upper back muscles we're targeting are responsible for shoulder movement, shoulder stability, neck stability, posture, and much more. As a participant in the 21st century, posture is often neglected. Once our posture goes down the drain the muscles in the upper back get loose and very weak. When these muscles get weak, we increase the likelihood of developing a hunchback as we get older. Be sure to foam roll over the upper back for 7 repetitions. If you're lucky, you'll get your back to pop in several places.
Foam rolling is a great tool to help with muscle soreness after workouts, and consistency is the name of the game with these movements. You'll reap the most benefits if you can incorporate foam rolling into your workout routine. Enjoy!