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Foam Roller: Roll the Pain Away

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

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Foam rollers are easy to use and can be applied to any muscle in the body.

The use of a foam roller is one of those things that I always knew was beneficial but never seemed to get around to trying. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea why because I love and fully endorse the benefits of massage therapy, especially for the motocross athlete. Well, that all changed about 6 months ago when I started using a foam roller after my workouts to stretch and relieve muscle soreness. I'm not even sure what triggered my decision to buy one but, man am I glad I did. I'm not easily impressed with fitness "gadgets" but since the first day I started using this little piece of foam, it truly has become a part of my daily workout routine. If you ride or more importantly, sit at a desk all day, then you have to get yourself a foam roller.

Foam rollers come in many different shapes and sizes but the most popular is a firm foam log that is six inches in diameter. Some rollers are balls usually the size of a tennis ball. The roller is used against muscle knots with your own body weight to generate direct pressure. Imagine using a rolling pin to roll out lumps in bread dough. A foam roller is a good alternative to repetitive trips to the massage therapist. Your roller is always available and a whole heck of a lot cheaper! Bottom line: The foam roller is an inexpensive, yet highly effective way to treat and prevent the most common injuries seen by motocross athletes. Various rollers can be purchased at sporting goods stores or ordered online for less than $20.

A simple tennis ball can be used in place of a roller.

How It Works

The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight with the roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.

The superficial fascia is a soft connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascia system. For various reasons including disuse, not enough stretching, or injuries (ummm sounds like every rider I know....), the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion and it results in restricted muscle movement. It also causes pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion.

Myofascial release is a body work technique in which a massage therapist uses gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia. This technique results in softening and lengthening (release) of the fascia and breaking down scar tissue or adhesions between skin, muscles and bones.

Myofascial release has also been shown to relieve various muscle and joint pains such as IT band syndrome and shin splints as well as improving flexibility and range of motion. So for you riders who like to use running as a cross training tool, myofascial release is a must.

Foam rollers are easy to use and with a bit of experimentation you can target just about any muscle group. I have also added a small medicine ball and tennis ball to my tools for massage. There is never a time when there isn't a tennis ball under my desk. Feels so good on my feet and I swear they hurt less during training runs and while riding.


The dog and I often fight over who gets the tennis ball.

Tips for Using a Foam Roller

Using a foam roller is simple, but working some areas may take a bit of practice. You start by positioning your body with the area you want to work on top of the foam roller. Your body weight creates the pressure that massages and releases tight spots in the fascia. You control the pressure by applying more or less body weight on the roller and using your hands and feet to offset your weight as needed. It's helpful to try a variety of positions and see what works best for you.

I have found that small medicine balls and tennis balls are best for upper body parts like the arms and chest. The foam roller is great for larger muscles groups like the back and legs.

  • Like anything else exercise related only perform roller sessions when your muscles are warm or after a workout.
  • Position the roller under the soft tissue area you want to release or loosen.
  • Roll back and forth across the painful or stiff area for 60 seconds.
  • Injured areas should be treated two to three times a day otherwise, two to three times a week is sufficient.
  • If you find a particularly painful area (trigger point), hold that position until the area softens.
  • Focus on areas that are tight or have reduced range of motion.
  • Roll over each area a few times until you feel it relax. Expect some discomfort. It may feel very tender or bruised at first.
  • Stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly over bone or joints.
  • Keep your first few roller sessions short. About 15 minutes is all you need.
  • Rest a day between sessions when you start.

If you've never done foam rolling before, you may find it painful at first. You should ease into it, doing only as much as is reasonably comfortable.  It should become much less painful after a few sessions.

Below I have included 10 foam rolling exercises from CorePerformance.com that will get you started. If you purchase a foam roller it will come with a DVD that will show you plenty more movements and how to properly use the roller. It doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to figure this one out. Just get one and you can thank me later.

Gluteus Maximus

Gluteus Medius

Hamstring

IT Band

Quadriceps / Hip Flexor

Adductor

Lower Back

Upper Back

Lats

Pecs

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo September 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Tim - What a good topic! We use the foam roller religiously, pre-workout, post-workout, and even on off days as it's own workout to assist in recovery. This "tool" should be a staple in everyone's program. With my traditional athletes in stick and ball sports once we increase the mobility in and eliminate the tightness in the glutes they become a different athlete. People - athletes do not understand the importance of hip mobility and flexibility. Be warned tho, foam rolling is not fun, actually it can be pretty uncomfortable for newbies, but "through that pain will come great success" (I should patent that line huh? LOL ) Every client of mine goes through a FMS (Functional Movement Screen) or a SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment), most do not do well, pro athletes included. My NFL guys and NFL hopefuls are particularly interested in this as they need to score above 14 (out of 21) before they can even think about having a potential career. The NFL has done studies on this and this study showed that athletes who scored less than 14 on FMS were 11 times likely to get hurt than players who scored above 14 points. That is a huge number! Anyhow, great introduction to the foam roller or as we call it "the hidden knife massage" LOL.
    Greg

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer October 05, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks, Greg. Always good to hear from the Jersey shore!

  3. Gravatar
    pj December 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I like a smaller roller like a golf ball muscle roller which i can bring with me easily to the gym. Anyone else have one?

    http://zzathletics.com/Golf-Ball-Muscle-Roller-Massager-GBMR1.htm

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