The Benefits of Rolling
It’s not just for the love of pain
Chances are, if you’ve ever attended any sort of fitness class, you’ve seen someone cringing while rolling out their muscles on one of those ‘cylindrical wheels of death’. Rolling is a type of Myofacial release that you can do yourself, and is beneficial in both warming up and recovery from intense exercise, but what is it actually doing and how do you know you are doing it right?
Have you ever noticed on a raw chicken breast there seems to be a thin translucent film surrounding it? That’s Facia (or Myofacia). The same is present in our body, covering every muscle fibre and joining them together (Fetters, 2018).
The discomfort we feel when rolling, is linked to pain receptors in the body responding to the pressure of the foam roller, and while we laugh and cry about the pain of rolling, you should never feel pain. Just like stretching, there wil be discomfort, but if you’re feeling pain, you’re pushing too much.
Research on whether or not rolling actually has an effect on facia is a little 50-50, and we’re not entirely sure what physical process is happening to achieve that ‘release’ we crave. Some theorise it has more of an effect on the nervous system, and that signals are sent to the brain to relax the muscle being tenderised….uh….released…
Benefits of Foam Rolling
There have been many benefits to foam rolling and these include:
- Shorter recovery times
- Reduced discomfort from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
- Promote healthy blood circulation
- Reduce inflammation
- Short-term mobility increase
One recent study found that rolling over three consecutive days increased muscle efficiency afterwards, and delayed he onset of fatigue (MacGregor et al., 2018). Another study also concluded that rolling reduced DOMS and increased dynamic performance afterwards (GE, et al., 2014).
How to Roll?
There are many different ideas of how you should roll to best achieve results, and really it all depends on what you need to roll and what works for your body. Everyone responds differently to exercise and rolling, so often you just need to play around and see what works.
No matter how you decide to roll, you should never focus on joints and tendons, as any pain coming from these are more often than not linked to issues with the surrounding muscles. You’ll often see people rolling out the outside of their leg, targeting their Iliotibial Tract or ITB. This is actually a series of dense tissue fibres, and pain in this area can often be attributed to muscles surrounding the hip.
A good example is if you’ve ever had a stiff neck where you can only turn to one side. The muscles on the side you can’t turn tense up; which then causes that should to lift, then your hips will shift to the same side to compensate to weight change, which can then lead you to ‘sink’ into your hip and cause stiffness in the lower back and radiate down your hamstrings. Everything is connected, and soreness in one area does not specifically mean there isn’t an imbalance somewhere else.
Long story short, if you’re sore somewhere, focus not just on that area, but the muscles surrounding it.
Here are the most common methods to get you rockin’ and rollin’:
They See Me Rollin’
The most common way is to gently apply pressure and slowly roll back and forth. This is a quick and easy method which is good before any physical exercise and between sets.
Good Things Come In Threes
Another good way to think about rolling, is in threes. Take the hamstring for example (inclusive of the Bicep Femoris, Semitendinosus, Adductor Magnus, Semimembranosus and Vastus Lateralis). If you needed to roll out this large section of muscles, you would divide the section into top, middle and bottom, and focus on each section one at a time. This may help provide deeper myofacial release, and is best on recovery days when you’re feeling extra sore.
If In Doubt, Wait It Out
When lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises, strength is built from the muscles being put under tension for an amount of time. You can quickly throw around a weight and not see much improvement, or if you take things slowly and increase the muscle’s Time Under Tension, you facilitate greater Hypertrophy.
You can also use this idea with foam rolling, so instead of actually rolling back and forth over the muscle, you stop where it’s sore and let the muscle relax under the constant tnesion.
Do it all.
Start out by quickly rolling over the whole area, then divide the area into three sections and slowly roll while stopping at any especially sore areas. Once you’re done, give the area another quick roll.
I Think I Should Roll, But What Exercises Can I Do?
Here’s a selection of exercises you can do, but again feel free to play and find what works for you. I personally really benefit from lying on the roller with it placed right under my lower back and doing a few leg swings. This might be a little too intense if you’ve never rolled before, but it’s all about discovering how your body responds and working with that. If you ever have any doubts, head on in to one of Justin’s stretch classes at The Dance Workshop and he’ll give you a few pointers.
Fetters, K. A. (2018, July 21). Here’s What Foam Rolling Is Actually Doing When It Hurts So Good. Retrieved from SELF: https://www.self.com/story/what-foam-rolling-is-actually-doing-when-it-hurts-so-good
GE, P., DJ, b.-S., JE, K., EJ, D., DG, B., & DC, B. (2014, Nov 21). Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Retrieved from NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413
Macgregor, L. J., Fairweather, M. M., Bennett, R. M., & Hunter, A. M. (2018, June 8). The Effects of Foam Rolling for Three Consecutive Days on Muscular Efficiency and Range of Motion. Retrieved from Sports Medicine Open: https://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-018-0141-4#Abs1