How to get the most out of your foam roller

Are you experiencing “knots” in your muscles? If so, add foam rolling to your workout routine.

This technique is very similar to a deep tissue massage except it’s a lot cheaper and more effective in the long run. Foam rolling works by breaking up collagen adhesions that create “knots” in muscle tissue. By using your own bodyweight to apply pressure to your muscles and tendons, you can decrease tightness and your risk of injury.

Foam rolling has been shown to aid a variety of conditions such as: IT band syndrome, Patella femoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), shin splints, low back pain, infra patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee), blood flow (overall soreness) and joint range of motion.

Foam rollers come in many shapes, sizes and levels of firmness. If you are new to foam rolling, start off with a soft roller and slowly progress to a firmer one. My favorite is the TriggerPoint Grid Mini foam roller, which fits perfectly in your backpack or duffle bag.

Here are five foam rolling tips that will help you perform better during your workouts and recover quicker afterward. Now let’s start rolling!

1) Roll before your workout

By foam rolling before your workout, you will prepare your muscles to work to their fullest potential. When your muscles work more efficiently, you can push harder and as a result burn more calories. This can also help improve mobility and range of motion by loosening up tight areas.

2) Slow your roll

Slowly roll your tender areas for 30 to 60 seconds. Lightly rolling won’t have much of an effect, so make sure you apply some pressure by positioning yourself effectively over the direct areas of pain before you target the specific spots.

3) Avoid the lower back

You’ll want to avoid foam rolling up and down the lower back. Instead, position the roller parallel to your spine to target the upper and mid back and the muscles in your butt. By loosening up the muscles surrounding the lower back, you can dramatically decrease pain and increase mobility in that area.

4) Listen to your body
In the beginning, rolling will most likely feel uncomfortable, so start with small doses and aim for 5-10 minutes a day. Easing into the process will also help prevent excessive soreness or injury. Listen to your body and use it as a guide for when to go deeper and when to simply back off.

5) Breath
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Sometimes foam rolling can be rather painful (discomfort will reduce with frequency), but don’t hold your breath. Doing so causes unnecessary muscle tension, making it harder to reach your trigger points. Try to use this time as you would for a regular massage and let your mind-body slowly drift away to a calming zen.

Above all, the key to foam rolling is to stay consistent and practice, practice, practice. Always remember to drink plenty of water after a session which will help speed up the recovery process.

Roll on!

Robyn Weisman is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. She is the owner of Results by RW, which specializes in injury prevention, muscular imbalances and uses corrective exercise as an alternative for pain reduction. Learn more at resultsbyrw.com.