Learn the deceptively simple move that’s been a gamechanger for me.
About eight years ago, my chiropractor Dr. Denise Vuich bought me my very first foam roller. It’s basically just a foam tube, and they come in all different sizes and degrees of firmness—you can even cut up one of those swim noodles to make your own. They’re great for relaxing tight muscles and stimulating your circulation. Since I spend a lot of time hunched over the kitchen counter, Dr. Vuich thought I might benefit from using the foam roller to stretch out my back, but it would be equally good for anyone who spends a lot of time at a computer, looking at handheld devices, or, really, anyone with back tightness. I started rolling for just a few minutes every morning and every night and the one she got me was small enough to fit in my carry-on, so I took it with me when I traveled, too. It really changed everything for me, not just my posture. It also releases my diaphragm, so I feel like I can actually breathe better.
Lately, I’ve been seeing foam rollers everywhere. There are dedicated foam rolling classes popping up at gyms like New York’s CLAY Health Club + Spa, where they offer the 45-minute Rolling Grace, and Lauren Roxburgh, a structural integrative specialist and fitness expert based in Santa Monica, has a great book, Taller, Slimmer, Younger: 21 Days to a Foam Roller Physique. We checked in with Dr. Vuich, Lauren, and CLAY Master Trainer Beth Lewis to see what you should know to get rolling.
Giadzy: Why should we foam roll? What are the benefits?
Lauren Roxburgh: The foam roller can completely transform your body, core, posture, and even your state of mind. It can literally roll away excess bulk, thickness, stress, and density while also boosting circulation and lubrication to the tissue, which makes the skin and muscle look and feel more supple and youthful.
G: The term “myofascial release” is used a lot when people talk about foam rolling; what does that actually mean?
Denise Vuich: Not only does foam rolling release tight muscles, but also the covering over those muscles, called fascia. Fascia is a fibrous connective tissue between muscles and/or bone structures. It can be either superficial or deep, and it’s the superficial fascia that is affected by myofascial release.
Beth Lewis: The fascia can get adhesions or “knots,” which can pull on the
ligaments, cause pain in the closest joint, and incorrect movement patterning. When foam rolling, the adhesions are smoothed out.
G: What are some key areas to roll?
LR: Most people think of it as a tool to roll out tight IT bands, but the roller can in fact be a total-body-workout tool. (IT stands for iliotibial; the IT band runs from your iliac crest, or pelvis, along the outside of your thigh to the tibia or shinbone.
BL: Foam roll the areas that you need the most! The usual suspects are upper back, glutes, IT band, abductors and calves. Find the tightest part, hold for about 30 seconds and move on.
G: Any moves to do at home?
DV: To ease back tension, start by lying on your back with the foam roller under
your gluteal muscles. Start rolling up one side of the back, slightly turning so as not to impact your spine, and roll all the way up to your shoulder. Then repeat on the opposite side. Then, lying on your back with the foam roller in the center, perpendicular to your spine, slowly roll up the spine.
G: Are there foam-rolling best practices?
DV: You want to be very aware of what you are experiencing. If you have an area of pain, it is best to slowly roll up and stop if you feel pain, allowing the pain to subside before moving on. Roll each body part a minimum of 30 seconds to a maximum of 1 minute.
G: What are common mistakes to avoid?
LR: Avoid being too aggressive. As I say to my clients, it should “hurt so good,” not be overly painful.
DV: Also, be aware that if the pain intensity does not subside somewhat or you do in fact have an injury, you may want to see a professional. Moving too quickly does not allow the brain to process the information and work to change the physiology. Slow and easy gets the job done! Finally, wait 24 to 48 hours before repeating!
BL: The biggest mistake I’ve seen when rolling is getting too tense while rolling. It
seems counterintuitive, but in order to get the release, the muscle has to relax onto the roller and there is some pain involved. If there is no pain, you probably do not need to roll that area or you are not letting the muscle relax. If it is too intense, take less weight off the roller by putting more weight into the floor. If still too intense, get a softer roller.
G: How do you choose the right foam roller?
DV: The size of your foam roller can be a personal choice. I prefer to use a smaller foam roller, about 3 inches in diameter. Using the smaller roller when rolling the back and spine reduces the chance of injuring oneself. I do use a 6-inch-diameter foam roller for my legs, since you have a greater ability to control the movement and intensity
on your legs.
BL: Firmness of the roller can vary. The general rule of thumb is if it is so intense
that you can’t relax, get a softer roller. Again, to be productive, rolling is not going to feel great. Every body and body part is different so play with what your body needs.