What Can Foam Do For You?
If you walk into almost any gym nowadays, you will see people on the floor rolling around on large foam tubes sometimes looking like they are in pain. You probably ask yourself, "What are they doing?". They are doing a form of self myofascial release (SMR) known as foam rolling. In an attempt to loosen up tight muscles, people roll out them out on what looks like a baking pin in hopes of causing some relief by kneading out tender spots or tight areas.
In my opinion, though not 100% necessary, foam rolling can be a great way to start your workout. I typically don't like to go into foam rolling cold, so when I first get to the gym, I like to start with 5-10 minutes of some low intensity/impact cardio. My favorite right now is a sit-down exercise bike. Once warmed up, I typically take about 5-10 minutes to foam roll.
I like to classify my approaches to foam rolling in two distinct categories: Warm-up and Recovery/Cool Down. The time spent foam rolling will be dictated by the goal of the session. Typically for warm ups, about 5-10 minutes is all that's needed. I like to target my tight areas, so what areas I foam roll can vary depending on how I feel. If I was sitting at my desk all day, I may take some extra time to roll out my lower back and hips. If I am coming off a hard leg day, I may roll out my quads for a bit just to get some extra blood in there and prepare for the workout ahead. My typical recommendation is to find a tender/tight spot and slowly roll back and forth on it about 10 times (typically 30 seconds or less), then move on to the next spot.
For recovery/cool down purposes, I recommend finding those tight areas and spending about 1-2 minutes on those spots. Move around a bit, see how you feel, and if you still feel tight go ahead and hit the spot again. For the goal of recover or cool down, we are really looking to cause some change. The reason this is saved for post workout/off days, is prolonged exposure (>30-60 seconds) to foam rolling may cause degradation in performance. Because of this, I like to save my long sessions for post workout or an off day.
Foam rolling can be a great tool to get your body primed for the workout ahead or cause some relief for your tight/sore muscles. If you haven't tried it, I recommend giving it a shot. See how you feel. If you feel better, more ready, or recovered keep in the routine. Roll on!