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What’s the big deal with foam rollers?

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Foam rollers can be beneficial even if you aren't a runner.

Foam rollers can be beneficial even if you aren't a runner.

Considering that they’re just lightweight cylinders, foam rollers sure have been receiving a lot of hype. So why all the fuss?

What you need to know
A foam roller is a log-shaped object typically made of – you guessed it – foam. Though they vary in size, the average foam roller is usually around 1 to 2 feet in length  They are inexpensive but effective tools to add to your home workout equipment, especially if you’re an avid runner. Most cost somewhere between $20 and $40 and can be purchased online or at your local sporting goods store.

The benefits of using a foam roller before or after your workout are similar to those of a deep tissue massage. Among other advantages, Oxygen Magazine reported that they can reduce joint stress, scar tissue and inflammation. While foam rollers are often recommended for rehabbing an injury, you don’t have to be hurt to take advantage of their benefits.

How it works
If you experience tightness or soreness in your back, Prevention Magazine recommended lying face-up with the foam roller under your midback, parallel with your shoulders. Put your hands behind your head, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Roll the cylinder up to your shoulders and then back down to your midback by engaging your abs and lifting your hips slightly.

Your legs can also benefit from foam rolling. If you’re a runner, you might find that rolling out your calves helps to prevent soreness. Runner’s World recommended you put a foam roller under your right calf, cross the left leg over the right, put your hands palms-down on the floor behind you and roll back and forth between the knee and ankle, never rolling on the joints. Repeat with the right leg crossed over the left.

To roll out your hamstrings, Women’s Health Magazine suggested a similar exercise. Cross one leg over the other like before, but instead of starting at your calf, place the foam roller underneath your leg just above the back your knee and roll to just below your butt. Repeat with the opposite leg on the bottom.

When using a foam roller, the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommended that you find the spot that is most tender in a particular area and pause there for 30 to 90 seconds while relaxing the muscles. An analog watch from the Baby-G blue series is a great way to watch those seconds tick by. Be sure to maintain core stability during this time by drawing your navel in towards the spine.

What to avoid
While foam rollers provide the potential to benefit your fitness regimen, they can also be harmful if not used properly. Incorrect use can cause irritation and even further injury.

According to The Huffington Post, many people try to directly massage areas where they feel pain. This can be a mistake.

“Areas of pain are the victims that result from tension imbalances in other areas of the body,” Sue Hitzmann, M.S., told HuffPost. Hitzmann is the creator of the MELT Method, a technique that helps people who deal with chronic pain.

Rather than rolling directly on the area where you feel pain, Hitzmann recommended moving a few inches away and starting there with smaller, more direct rolls before moving on to larger, sweeping motions.

Another mistake that Hitzmann cautions against is using a foam roller on your lower back.

“Your spine will freak out and all the spinal muscles will contract and protect the spine,” she said.

As with any exercise, listen to your body. You will usually experience some discomfort when using a foam roller, but tune in to the signals your body is sending you so that you learn to recognize good pain from bad. If something hurts more than usual, it’s probably a sign that you should stop and evaluate what you’re doing.

 

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