Fitness & Training » "Get Moving" with Chris Gabriel

How to Properly Foam Roll

Foam rolling has become increasingly popular over recent years, and foam rollers of all sizes can be found in almost any gym or physical therapy clinic in the United States.  Research has suggested that rolling on one of these hard cylindrical pieces of foam may help reduce fatigue, improve flexibility, reduce soreness and even help decrease arterial stiffness.  Although the quality of these individual studies can be debated, many athletes, therapists, and athletic trainers swear by foam rolling. Here are a few tips to consider before getting started.

Safety: Although foam rolling is safe for most people, individuals who have issues with decreased bone density or are prone to fractures should consult with their doctor prior to trying a foam roller.

Density: Make sure you find the right firmness, especially if you are new to rolling.  Individuals who are smaller or sensitive to pressure should start with a lower density (more ‘squishy’ roller).  Heavier individuals may need one that is more dense, or firmer.

Location: Common areas to focus on are the iliotibial band, hamstrings, upper back and calf muscles.  Avoid rolling over the low back and use common sense over sensitive areas.

When to Roll: Foam rolling can be performed before or after exercise, and may augment the benefits of stretching.  Athletes and weight lifters often benefit from using a foam roller to help resolve post exercise muscle soreness.

Techniques: There are several different foam rolling techniques you can try.

  1. Roll back and forth over a tight area.
  2. Keep the roller stationary and applying sustained pressure over a knot or trigger poin.
  3.  Use a “pin and stretch” technique where the foam roll stays stationary on a tight area while you actively move a body part through a functional movement pattern.

Consult a health care professional or OrthoCarolina physical therapist if you have questions or feel you need some extra education about proper foam rolling.

Chris Gabriel, OCS (Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist), CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), practices physical therapy with OrthoCarolina Matthews and with D1 Sports. Chris and his team treat a range of patients for orthopedic and sports medicine needs.  He enjoys working with various local high school, college, and professional sports teams. 

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