I’m an avid exerciser and lately, I’ve been dealing with some pain and tightness in my right hamstring. I am pretty good about stretching after a workout, but no amount of it seemed to alleviate my discomfort. Someone suggested I try using a foam roller to fix my problem, and I was skeptical. How would using a thick pool-noodle (as I assumed it would be) make my muscles less sore? But after more people started recommending it, I decided to give it a try. I’ve only used it about three times since purchasing it, and I am HOOKED. So I am here to tell you why you need a foam roller for your workout and how to use it.
Why it works
First, I want to point out how affordable foam rollers are. Like most exercise equipment, you can get different kinds at different price points. I grabbed this one for about $20 at Target. The best part is they included a link to an online video that taught me how to use it. So, the affordable price and ease of use are the two things that make this an easy addition to your workout.
As for the actual science, there isn’t a lot yet, but there are several theories as to why foam rolling works. The main one is that our muscles are basically “wrapped” in fascia. Fascia will thicken and shorten to protect your muscles in the natural breakdown and repair process that happens through working out. If the fascia contracts too much, it can create painful trigger points that need to be released. Foam rolling is a great way to get fascia to release.
How to do it
A foam roller can be used on several places on the body, but let’s focus on the exercises I’ve been doing since hamstring strain is a common ailment. Also, keep in mind that while you may want to roll the muscles that are hurting, you should also focus on the muscles around the painful one, since tension in one of them can manifest as the pain in the area that you actually feel it.
For your hamstrings directly, sit on the foam roller with your hands placed evenly behind you. Extend one leg out, and bend your other knee, placing that foot on the floor. Gently roll the roller under you until you get to the bottom of your hamstring, above the back of your knee, and roll back up to your gluteus maximus. Repeat for several seconds. For an added challenge, take your foot off the ground, extend your leg, and cross it over the one you’re working on. Repeat on your other leg.
For your IT band (the long muscle on the side of your thigh), lay on your side with the foam roller under your hip and your elbow and arm on the floor. Take your top leg, bend your knee, and place your foot in front of your bottom leg. Gently roll down your outer thigh and back up. Repeat for several seconds. Turn the foot of your bottom leg down towards the floor to work a slightly different area of your leg. Repeat on the other side.
For your quads (the front of your thighs), lay face down with the roller under your hips and both hands on the floor in front of you. Gently push yourself and roll the roller down your thighs until you reach your knees. Repeat for several seconds.
Rock and roll!
During any of these exercises, if you locate particular stiff or painful points, you may want to spend a few seconds focusing on the specific area. Be careful not to go for too long, or you may further exacerbate your pain. If you follow the steps carefully, breathe throughout, and pay attention to your body, you’ll do yourself a world of good. Hopefully, this has convinced you why you need a foam roller for your workout, which will only get better!