You might have noticed those flashy rolls in the cabinet at the whiteboard at 3-2-1 Fit. But what are they actually for?
Foam rolling is done by rolling over a painfull/tight areas to make them relax (or actually, the surrounding fascia), increase blood flow and loosen up the muscle. You can do this either with the foam roller or with something like a tennis ball.
It's best comparable with a deep tissue massage, only you get to both do the massaging ánd get the pain. You also save money. Triple win.
Multiple studies (including 2 linked below) have shown positive short term effects of foam rolling on strength, flexibility and recovery. The mechanism involved is a relaxation of overtensed muscles, allowing you to move more freely after. The key is not to be a warrior and go above your pain threshold: your body will perceive this as a threat and will not relax at all. The ideal timing would then be right before exercise, to release the tight fascia and move more freely after.
Never forget though that an overly tight muscle might just be a way of your body telling you something is wrong. You might be weak or in some areas, causing other areas to pick up the slack. If you need frequent foam rolling before you can get anything done, be sure to see a movement specialist to check where you are lacking.
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