Foam roller: your new best friend

Foam rolling is a great way to do ‘self maintenance’ of your body, whether it is after sport, or trying to undo the ‘city posture.’ It helps to keep the myofascia (muscles and fascia) relaxed and happy, and prevents them from getting tight which can increase your risk of dysfunction and injury. You can think of it as similar to going and having a deep tissue massage, except it can be done right in your living room and on a very regular basis! There are many different ways you can use the roller, but this week, here’s our super physio Lauren with a beginner’s guide… 

Arm opening
Lie lengthways on the roller, make sure that your whole spine is resting on the roller, from your pelvis to your head. Start with your fingertips pointing towards the ceiling, palms facing towards each other. Open your arms out towards the ground. Be mindful of your shoulder position, as it is very easy for your shoulders to actually lift up towards the ceiling as your hands lower towards the ground – instead, keep them as relaxed as you can.

Same set up as with the arm opening, but this time one hand will lower to reach towards the wall behind you, and the other hand will lower to your hip. Keep both palms facing towards the ceiling. Note that the hand going overhead is not reaching towards the ground, but rather lengthening towards the end wall. If you are tight in the muscles and fascia that go from the arm through to your back you may find that your ribs and spine want to lift off the roller, but your spinal alignment is the priority, so keep your back flat on the roller.

Transverse Thoracic
This exercise is fantastic for undoing our flexed computer postures and allowing the spine to extend. Start off by lying on the roller with it perpendicular to your spine and mid-way up your ribcage. You can have your hands across your chest, or otherwise place your hands behind your head so that your head can stay relaxed, lift your hips up off the floor and roll up and down your spine from the top of your ribcage to the bottom of your ribcage. If you feel that there are some specific areas of tightness you can pause on these areas, place your hips back down onto the ground again, and focus on breathing and relaxing that area.

Lat release
This is great for swimmers and gym junkies especially! If your lats get tight they will pull down on your shoulder, restricting your ability to raise your arm above your head. This can then very easily cause overload if you don’t notice the restrictions, and then try to train your shoulder as normal. Start as you would if doing the transverse thoracic rolling, then rotate your upper body over so that your chest bone is facing the side wall, then roll up the muscle until you come to your armpit. You may need to move around a bit to find your points of tenderness.

I love starting with the roller for a glute release, and then if required moving to a ball. Start off by sitting on the roller and making a figure 4 with your legs, then bend up the leg that is straight so that you can weight-bear through it and use it to roll. Then you can play around with the angle and roll towards the top leg.

Lie on your front on the roller and roll from your hip to the knee. Remember that your quads are a group of four muscles that run lengthways along your thigh (one on top of the other in the middle, and then one on either side of that), so change your angle to try and target the different bundles. If you feel like you need more weight going through your legs then you can cross one leg over top of the other.

Take a seat on the ground and place the roller underneath your thigh. Similar to the quads rolling, you can start with both legs, then lift one leg off the roller to increase the pressure on the leg left on the roller. Roll from just above the knee joint, up to the base of the buttocks.

Most runners and cyclists would have heard of knee issues coming from a tight iliotibial band, or ITB. This big, long, flat tendon often gets tight with repetitive movements, and especially if there is an underlying weakness in the muscles of the core, hip, or feet. ITB rolling is a great way to keep that tightness in check. Here you basically want to roll from just above the knee, to just below where you feel the bony part of your hip. Remember that you do not want to roll over the top of the knee, as this may actually irritate the insertion of the tendon into the bone.

Sit down on the ground with one leg on the roller, and the other on the ground. Lift your hips up and roll from your foot up to your knee. If you are able to hold your weight through your arms only, you can place both legs onto the roller, either side by side or one on top of the other.

Things to keep in mind whilst rolling:
Breathe through the release, and imagine the muscle letting go and lengthening – the more you can connect your mind into the process the better the release and carryover will be! Our muscles are very good at remembering to stay tight, but not so good at remembering how to loosen, so consciously take note of what the feeling is like when the muscle finally relaxes.

The objective of foam rolling is to release tight muscles and fascia. If it is too painful, the muscles will tighten up to protect the body, and thus doing the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. You are better to back off a little and be able to spend more time in a relaxed manner on the roller.

Everyone’s body is unique, so play around with your angles, you may even find that you have totally different points of tenderness in the same muscle group from one side to the other.

The foam rollers we use at Victory are made by physiotherapy supply company 66Fit. They are 90cm long by 15cm diameter, and you can buy them here on Amazon Prime (though there are plenty of other options).  We hope these exercises of Lauren’s sort out any issues you may have with tight muscles or dodgy posture; but if you’d like any personal help, please call us on 0207 175 0150 to arrange a 90-minute physiotherapy assessment with Lauren.

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