Why Foam Rollers? Lower Body Edition

Not too long ago, my friend came up to me with pain behind her knees.  She asked me what she can do to fix the problem.  As I got my eastern medicine kit out, and started to take a look, I quickly realized that it was not the knee that hurt.  Her pain was present in the knee, but really it was the insertion of the biceps femoris (hamstring) down where it inserts at the knee that was the culprit.  I spent about fifteen minutes working on it, and boom, she felt as good as new.  I told her her next step is to go out and purchase a foam roller.  She did, and fell in love with it and I have yet to hear her complain about knee pain ever since. 

So why Foam Roll?

Foam rolling is an overlooked part of many peoples exercise programs.

Let’s start with what a foam roller is.

A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of hard-celled foam.  Almost like a pool noodle, but much denser.

It’s use is for self myofascial release or trigger point therapy.  This means that you are using the foam roller in an acupressure or massage-like way to roll out the sensitive areas of various muscle groups.  Trigger points are the same as knots in the muscles that are hypersensitive to stretching.  Meaning, when you have trigger points in a muscle group that trigger point will decrease the range of motion of that muscle. We get trigger points for many reasons, mostly because of faulty movement patterns that cause muscles to overwork in compensation for other muscle groups.

When using a foam roller properly, it will not be pleasant the first time. The sensitive areas in the IT band, quads and groin can be painful when first using a foam roller, but rest assured, over time and continuous use the pain will become less and less.

The benefit of foam rolling are:

1. Increased range of motion and flexibility.

2. Increased range of motion without a decrease in muscle activation.

3. Help reduce pain.

4.  Help restore faulty movement patterns along with exercise.

5. Increase blood circulation to stagnant areas.

These benefits will not be found anywhere else unless you go out and get a massage. As Mike Boyle once said, this is the poor man’s massage therapist. You will be astonished by the difference foam rolling can make in the way you exercise and the way you feel once you become consistent with it.

I have found the best times to use a foam roller are prior to exercise, and early in the day or right before bed on off days.

If I am exercising after I foam roll, I keep it brief. Iwill foam roll for ten to fifteen minutes, do my dynamic warm-up and then my workout. This order  allows me to improve the flexibility of the muscle fascia. Fascia is all the connective tissue that connects your body together; the muscles, bones and all other tissues. Every muscle is covered by fascia, and foamrolling will help restore the function not only to the muscle, but thesurrounding fascia. After foam rolling, I will do a dynamic warm-up. It will include some dynamic stretches, and exercises to activate the muscle groups I will be using within my workout. This allows me to stretch my muscles at their newly allotted range of motion, and help my muscles activate properly duringexercise.

If it is an off day, I will treat this more like a massage, and take my time to really dig into the most tender spots.  After this I will follow up with stretching.  This is good to get a good stretch at the muscles full range of motion now that the muscle fascia isn’t as adhered.  This is the problem with just stretching and not foam rolling.  If you stretch a muscle that is hypersensitive to stretch, you are just stretching within it’s already limited range of motion.  Foam rolling has been shown to improve flexibility on its own without stretching.  So if you can stretch at this new found range of motion you will be able to get a better stretch of the muscle at its end range or motion.

I myself  prefer to roll out in the day, because I stretch and do some general activational exercises for my glutes and shoulders afterwards. This makes my body feel a lot better and looser for the rest of the day, which is especially good because I am on my feet all day.

How to use:

Here are the techniques to lower body foam rolling:

IT BAND

The IT band is located on the outer part of your thigh. It runs from hip to knee. So when rolling out make sure you cover the entire length, not just close to the hip, or not just too close to the knee. You can segment the leg. Start by doing ten to fifteen rolls by the knee and work your way up to the hip. Doing ten to fifteen rolls in each segment you use. You should spend extra time on the most sensitive areas. Meaning more rolls.

Technique:

  • Lay on the foam roller, so that your outer thigh rests on top of it.
  •  Place your other leg over the top of the leg you are foam rolling and rest your foot flat on the floor.  This will allow you to place weight onto that leg to hold you up as well as to help you push yourself forward and back so you can roll over the muscles.
  • You should also be proped up on your elbows, so you can use them as well to push you up and down the foam roller.

QUADS

The same rules apply here as they did for the IT band.

Technique:

  • Lay on your stomach, so that your quad is on the foam roller.
  • Place the other leg on top of the leg you are rolling.
  • Prop yourself on your elbows so you can push yourself up and down the foam roller.

GROIN

This muscle group can be the trickiest to roll. The same rules apply as all the others; make sure you cover all the area between the knee and hip.

Technique:

  • Place the foam roller on a 45 degree angle so that the part of the roller closest to your head is pointing towards you.
  • Bend your leg 90 degrees, and place the medial part of your thigh on the foam roller.
  • Roll the groin in three segments; lower, middle and upper thigh.

HAMSTRINGS

Technique:

  • Sit down with your legs straight and your hamstrings on top of the foam roller.
  • Place your hands slightly behind you to push yourself up and down the foam roller.
  • Start from the knees and work towards your hip, or vica versa.

CALVES

Technique:

  • Sit down with your legs straight and your calves on top of the foam roller.
  • Place your hands slightly behind you to push yourself up and down the roller.
  • Start from the knee and work towards your ankle, or vice versa.

SHINS

Technique:

  • Kneel on the foam roller so that your shins are on top of the foam roller.
  • Roll from ankle to knee, or vice versa.

Other considerations:

When foam rolling, you can also turn your body on slight angles, to hit the muscles differently.  This is where a lot of trigger points reside as well, so feel free to explore your body as you get better.

If you do not have a foam roller, or can not afford one, you can use a tennis ball to do this. It is a little more invasive and will hurt more due to its size and shape. Tennis balls work better some areas that foam rollers can’t get to, but this is more advanced than this post.

Also, this can be hard to do for some people. People who are obese or those who lack upper body strength. There will be a lot of propping and holding yourself up. Make sure, you take your time and use the appropriate density foam roller. If it is not dense enough you will have to work harder to feel the tenderness in the muscles. And if it is too dense, it will hurt so much you won’t be able to take the pain and roll out.

Was this post helpful, enlightening, the purest, greatest thing you ever read? Do you foam roll? Let me know, leave a comment below!


3 responses to “Why Foam Rollers? Lower Body Edition

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