What’s the Deal with Foam Rolling?

What’s the Deal with Foam Rolling?

Authored by Audrey on June 20, 2019

What’s the Deal with Foam Rolling?

It used to be reserved for true fitness experts and professionals. Now, engaging in self-myofascial release, otherwise known as foam rolling, has become as commonplace as the crunches or push-ups that have preceded it.

However, there are still misconceptions and pieces of misinformation floating around about this beneficial form of a post-workout massage. Luckily for you, our team at Jack City Fitness is here to set the record straight.

What Is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which is a technical term for a (self-administered) massage that’s designed to release tension or trigger points in the muscles. Aside from a foam roller, self-myofascial release, or SMR, can be performed with a ball (lacrosse balls are especially popular), specialized “canes,” your own set of hands, or even a wine bottle or rolling pin. These messages are often utilized after physical activity, but they needn’t be limited to that; SMR foam rolling makes for a great warm-up as well.

The idea is that, by applying a certain amount of pressure to targeted, tense muscle areas, you can massage them into a healthier state. Ideally, after a self-myofascial release session, your muscles should be functioning at their standard level— meaning they’re elastic and loose enough that they won’t get damaged if you chose to, say, take a long walk or bike ride after your workout session. It will also bring you physical relief if you’re feeling discomfort or pain as a result of tight muscles.

Some of our favorite reasons to use a foam roller are:It Can Cool You Down…

Foam rolling is especially popular (and beneficial) for use after a great training session. (Check out the best tips for maximizing muscle building here. A recent study has even shown that using this technique after a strenuous workout can actually alleviate discomfort associated with DOMS— aka Delayed Muscle Soreness.[1] Not only does it feel better, it actually can enhance your future training days— by avoiding Delayed Muscle Soreness, you are more likely to have a successful performance in your next session.

  • …Or it Can Warm You Up

Though the post-workout foam rolling session may be perhaps the most frequently discussed, it’s certainly not the only fish in the sea. For many, there is no better time to utilize their handy foam roller than before diving into physical activities, like a training session, a nice jog, or a rousing round of their favorite sport.

The reason that self-myofascial release works so well as a warmup is quite straightforward: it all comes down to blood flow. For instance, if today is leg day, your foam roll workout would ideally focus on calves, hamstrings, and quads. By focusing on these muscles and giving them lots of love with the foam roller, you’ll actually be encouraging more blood to flow to the area. It’ll make your workout smoother, and your muscles will be more receptive to the exercises you’re giving them.

  • You’ll Feel a Difference When you Work Out

We’ve all been there— whether it comes from diving into a routine without properly working out or attempting a trip to the gym after sitting on a long car ride or flight, sometimes tight muscles find their way into your workout. This can be uncomfortable at best, and downright painful or even dangerous at its worst. Foam rolling offers a swift and easy solution to that problem; your body will feel more flexible, have a larger range of movement, and you’re less likely to snap or tear your muscles during physical activity.

Finding your Trigger Points

When a knot forms in your muscle, that’s sometimes referred to as a trigger point. These guys can be pretty sensitive at best, and can be downright agonizing at their worst, especially when they form in large amounts— this is referred to as myofascial pain syndrome.[2]

Trigger points are caused by a number of elements: your personal posture, an excessive amount of intense exercise, your diet, or even mental stress or anxiety can all contribute to tight muscles and trigger points. However, foam rolling massages can battle these painfully tight knots.

When you properly engage in SMR with a foam roller, you are actually releasing these trigger points. By doing this, you are enabling your body to attain a larger range of motion without pain during training. It also helps to realign your movement patterns, hence allowing you to perform at your very best.[3]

One unique element of trigger points is that they can lead to a strange (but sometimes wonderful) phenomenon known as “referred pain.” By utilizing the powers if pain referral, your body can do some pretty spectacular things.

Wait…”Referred Pain?”  Well, That Doesn’t Sound Very Nice…

You’re right. It sounds pretty negative, doesn’t it? Referred pain is actually a natural element of bringing your body more relief through foam rolling and other forms of self-myofascial release. Though it doesn’t always feel comfortable, it will save you from a lot of pain in your daily life, your workout sessions, and the future. Worth it, if you ask us.

Referred pain is a pretty fascinating phenomenon and is similar to the concept of acupuncture or acupressure. Essentially, when a trigger point is massaged or pressed, the topical site isn’t the only area on your body which feels pain. In referred pain scenarios, the soreness from the trigger will radiate to another spot.

A common example of this technique is the use of a foam roller on your iliotibial band. Though your trigger point will lay around your knee and thigh, applying pressure to this knot will radiate (or “refer”) pain out to your legs, hips, and even all the way down to your ankles. There’s no use in sugar coating it: this is not a painless or comfortable process. It can hurt quite a bit— but should never be excruciating. After the foam rolling session is over, the pain should dissipate.

How Can Foam Rolling Benefit Me and my Body?

Not only does foam rolling feel great, it’s also chocked full of benefits that will enhance your daily life and your fitness routine.

Curious about some of the best-regarded benefits of using a foam roller?

  • It Eradicates Painful Knots

If you’ve ever suffered from uncomfortable knots in your neck, back, and other muscles, you’re probably aware of how much of a pain they can be. A good one-on-one massage session with your trusty foam roller can tackle and work through those tough knots and provide some much-needed relief.

  • It Can Improve Your Circulation

As it turns out, participating in a self-myofascial release massage is thought to give your circulatory system a boost. That’s right— as you work the tissue in a particular area of your body, your blood will have an easier time flowing to that spot. Not only will this make your workout easier and more productive, but it’s incredibly good for you; a well-functioning circulatory system can promote heart health, as well as enhance your body’s arteries and muscles.[4]

  • It Can Flush Nasty Toxins out of Your Body

Yes, that’s right! Giving yourself a dose of self-myofascial release through a foam roll massage doesn’t only benefit your muscles and tissue. It also helps your body get rid of nasty toxins. Over time, your connective tissues tend to accrue a bit of unwanted metabolic waste, like lactic acid. This is completely normal— but still not something anybody wants or needs! Many health professionals believe that by directly focusing on a certain toxin-laden muscle or tissue area, one can break down and release the waste build-up.[5]

  • It Can Help You Move Better

The many benefits of foam rolling all come together to create an easier, more straightforward training session for you. Once it’s become a part of your routine, you will likely see a major difference in your daily life, especially when it comes to movement. This can apply to your fitness routine (the gym, your morning jog, your sports team, or a weekend hike,) or even to daily movements that you don’t even think about— running for the bus, playing with your kids, or even climbing up your steep driveway after you park your car on the curb.

As we’ve discussed, engaging in self-myofascial release before a workout is extraordinarily beneficial; it helps your circulation and loosens your muscles! However, the magic really comes when you combine those benefits. By always giving yourself a good foam roller massage after working out, you’ll be enhancing your next training session. After all, as we mentioned earlier, self-myofascial release is known to alleviate Delayed Muscle Soreness. In turn, your body will be better equipped for physical activity in the future. You’ll be able to move easier, with less fear of sustaining an injury.

When is the Best Time to Engage in Foam Rolling, and Why?

As we outlined earlier, foam roller based self-myofascial release can be performed at any time and is especially beneficial before and after a training session.

Though we certainly see the merit in foam rolling at any time, we believe the best time is after a strenuous workout. Its incredible ability to reduce Delayed Muscle Soreness cannot be emphasized enough— it’s a complete game changer!  We also love that it’s entirely self-administered, so if any particular muscle feels especially tight or uncomfortable after a training session, working that nasty knot away is entirely in control of the individual.

Are there any Helpful Tips on How to Properly Use a Foam Roller?

Of course! Like any physical activity, foam rolling has a few techniques that make it more effective.

  • Pinpoint Your Typically Tight Spots

What are the tensest or tight spots on your body? Typically, they tend to be your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and areas along your back, such as the thoracic spine.[6] These areas need the most love— so be sure to give them the proper attention they need during your foam roll massage.

  • Relaxation (and Breathing!) is Key

Your muscles aren’t going to relax if you aren’t. Allow yourself to focus on taking big, slow breaths and keeping your mind and body as calm as possible.

  • Take your Time

A thirty-second rubdown with your foam roller isn’t going to accomplish very much. Take at least five minutes to engage in self-myofascial release. To make the most of it, we recommend a full ten minutes.

  • Don’t Push Yourself

When you begin your process, be sure to take it easy on your body. To start, each muscle or area should ideally be pressed for around 20 seconds.  It’s enough time to work that knot out, but not so long that it will harm a particularly sensitive spot. Eventually, each muscle group can be massaged for around two minutes, as long as they aren’t too tender or sensitive. On that note, if a specific muscle group or trigger point feels tender, don’t push it.  Working on it for longer than necessary could cause bruising or even damaging your nerve— ouch![7]

Now that you’ve learned the secrets of enhancing your workout with the powers of self-myofascial release, let’s put it into action.  At Jack City Fitness, we are thrilled to give our fitness partners the best Boise has to offer in fitness, nutrition, and self-confidence. When you sign up for a partnership with Jack City, we will invite you to our state of the art fitness facility for a complimentary consultation with our team— and even a go on our famous InBody machine. From there, you’ll be able to enjoy 24-hour gym access, a large variety of group classes (including our Flexibility and Mobility class where you can put these recommendations to use), personal fitness and nutrition coaching sessions, and even customized online training, for the days that you can’t make it to our site.

Come visit us today!  We can’t wait to show you everything we have to offer.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413

[2] https://www.painscience.com/tutorials/trigger-points.php

[3] https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/what-is-a-foam-roller-how-do-i-use-it-and-why-does-it-hurt

[4] https://www.livestrong.com/article/323211-benefits-of-increased-blood-circulation/

[5] https://kyrinhall.com/recover-and-detoxify-with-foam-rolling/

[6] https://8fit.com/fitness/foam-roll-properly-use

[7] https://8fit.com/fitness/foam-roll-properly-use