When I first decided to join a gym, I wanted to go about it the right way, starting with a complimentary personal training consultation. One of the first pieces of advice was that I should always start my workouts with 5-10 minutes of foam rolling. My first thought was, what’s foam rolling? At this point, I pretty much did 60 minutes on the elliptical and called it a day. I hadn’t been introduced to the world of weight training, as we’d just left the early 2010s when using weights and potentially building muscle was still considered “masculine.” Luckily, I had a great personal trainer who took the time to educate me about foam rolling, why it’s important, and the stretches that I can cycle through even if I only have 30 minutes to workout.
Here’s what to know if you’re new to foam rolling.
Why is foam rolling important?
When you work out, your muscles tear slightly. The more intense your workouts, the more intense those small, microscopic tears can be, which means the more likely you are to be sore after when you’re done. You know, those knots that you get after a particularly hard leg day? Those are due to your muscles shredding, and as they heal, the layer between your muscle and fascia can develop adhesions. You’re not imagining it; there actually are adhesions there that need to be worked out. Foam rolling before and after exercising can help you work out those adhesions and leave your body less tense while improving your range of motion and mobility.
Does it help with soreness?
Yes! Foam rolling before a workout will help relieve any preexisting knots and muscle tightness, but using a foam roller after a workout is a great cool down and a way to prevent future soreness. When you work out, your muscles release lactic acid, and if you don’t alleviate that lactic acid, the days following a workout can be miserable. By foam rolling after a workout, you’ll remove this lactic acid to prevent soreness. Will you still be sore after a HIIT workout? Yes, some level of soreness will always be present after an intense workout. Will foam rolling help? Yes. Foam rolling after a workout can be the difference between sitting down comfortably and feeling like you can’t walk more than a few steps.
Does it take a long time?
Not really! The recommended amount of time to roll out each of the targeted muscles is about 30 seconds per muscle. A full body foam roll can take as little as five minutes when you utilize this approach. If you have more time to give to your warm up, you can spend more time working out the muscles. My trainer suggested not to spend more than two to three minutes on any one spot, and to break it up if a sore spot needs more attention. Have a tight glute? Go over the spot for 60 seconds, switch to the other glute, and then go back to spend another 30-60 seconds on that trouble spot. For beginners, 30 seconds will feel like forever as you get the hang of using the foam roller and addressing those knots.
Does foam rolling hurt?
It can! Since you’re rolling out knots in your muscles, there will be some of that “hurts so good” feeling like when you get a deep tissue massage, but it should never be painful. You shouldn’t be rolling over any bones or joints, just muscles. If you find yourself in pain, take a break. Stretching before foam rolling can help to loosen those muscles up and get them ready for foam rolling. Our bodies are one big living, breathing machine and we have to take care of it properly. Sometimes a spot may hurt more than it did before, and that’s okay. Once you start incorporating foam rolling into your routine, you’ll notice it getting easier as time goes on.
What do I need to foam roll?
If you’re working out at the gym, they’ll have multiple different shapes and sizes of foam rollers. As a beginner, stay away from those rollers with the raised edges, as those are incredibly intense and could dissuade you from future foam rolling. Ideally, you’ll use a 36” soft foam roller, and you’ll want to start with the basic moves. Focus on your quads, side quads, glutes, and back. Set your timer, get a workout mat, and get rolling. Good luck!