What is Foam Rolling?

What is Foam Rolling?
  Ask anyone of my clients and they will be the first to tell you how important foam rolling is. It may be a love/hate relationship at first but I can tell you that over time you will wonder what you did before foam rolling. I can’t tell you how many people I think should be doing this and aren’t. If you workout out regularly, have tight muscles (who doesn’t?), injuries, have muscles imbalances, feel stressed and experience tension in your body, then foam rolling is meant for you. Stay with me--I am going to explain to you what that mysterious cylinder foam roller you see hanging out at gym is all about.
"Hurts ya SO GOOD!"

"Hurts ya SO GOOD!"

I do not know about you but I don’t know anyone with a perfect body.  Nearly every human body has been through trauma, has muscle imbalances, poor posture and alignment, and deals with the stress of everyday life. (Those with kids know exactly what I am saying!). Many of us at some point have experienced pain, posture issues and tight muscles.  Our bodies (as brilliant as they are) learn to compensate what we throw at them. This leads to all of the above and over time gets worse; even tighter if not properly addressed.  Ever notice those “knots” and trigger points? You don’t want the bad habit of working out and adding more dysfunction on your body.  Think of it like brushing your hair. When you do not brush your hair regularly you get fussy, tangled, and knotted up hair. When you keep a routine and brush your hair regularly, you can avoid all of that. Foam rolling is the same concept and you just need to do it regularly to really take advantage of all of its benefits.  So if all of this is sounding familiar, adding Foam Rolling to your lifestyle will make a huge improvement.  Let’s get started. The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue.  By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam 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. This can lead to: Improved range of motion, improved flexibility, increased blood flow-so very important, improved movement and workouts, and can help just slightly reduce body fat in troubled areas. (Yes, this is the only time spot reduction can be applied.) Foam rollers offer many of the same benefits as a sports massage or deep tissue massage but without the big price tag. This is why you have to get on board! We only get one body. You should be treating it better than your car or house. Think about one month, six month, or two years from now and you sticking with foam rolling.  Now, think about all the released toxins, build-ups, inflammation and reduced or non existing issues. You will absolutely feel the difference, I promise.  My clients who commit to foam rolling never have felt better in their tight areas. It is also a great release for everyday stress that can happen from, say your desk job, or a long commute in your car.  Foam rolling is also a great way to relax and de-stress.

So let’s discuss how it really works and what “superficial fascia” really is.

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, overworked muscles, not enough stretching, or injuries, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion (think of is as a layer of “fuzz”) which 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 you use 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.  Think of this like a massage. 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. For example, if you have neck pain or tight pectoral muscles (the chest area which much of the time contributes to rounded shoulders), foam rolling would be very beneficial to add to your routine. The good news is foam rollers are inexpensive, and with a bit of experimentation you can target just about any muscle group. If you have tight pectoral muscles, neck pain, or hips for example the foam roller can absolutely help you loosen up and release built up tension. However, I do not recommend foam rolling over your lower back. Use a tennis ball for that. Also, NEVER roll a joint or bone (for example the knees).

Pick your level of firmness.

There are all sorts of foam rollers available, either in size, firmness or color. It depends on how often you are using a foam roller and for what level of experience. It can be painful at first, so I highly recommend a softer foam roller when starting out. These rollers are usually white in color. The next level of firmness is medium and these foam rollers are usually blue or green. The foam roller with the most firmness is usually black and purple, and some will also have knobs on them (whoa mama!).  As tempting as it might be to grab the hardest one in hope to relieving some unwanted tightness in your body, I would hold off from using the hardest. My advice is to start of with very light pressure and work your way up. I would start at 30 seconds at a time and work your way up to 2-3 minutes on that same area. If a muscle is very painful when it is pressured with a foam roller (chances are this will be what you feel), it’s an indication of a high amount of muscle tension.  This is why I would start easy and work your way up to hard. Once you roll out the muscle you can further in if you discover a knot. You will want to just keep the pressure there and not roll it up. Soon you will see a huge difference. Treat this as a "project" for your body.  Go slowly but steady, getting underneath all the layers of "Fuzz." If you find a knot or spot (you will!) where you really feel it and your body is talking to you, just breathe and don't try to overdo it; stop there for now.  When you get really familiar with the flow of foam rolling you will want to pay attention to your biggest “knots” and “trigger” points and keep the pressure there. This will release much of that entire “tight” area including the other small knots close by. Take it in very small baby steps and soon it will get easier and more enjoyable. You can also use a tennis ball or Lacrosse balls for smaller areas of your body. You may be sore the next day, just as you would be from a massage.


ANYTIME! Better than nothing, that is for sure. Ideally, the best absolute time is BEFORE exercise.  However, to be even more exact, you should foam roll, then lightly stretch those muscles ,  then start your work out. This will give your muscles more range of motion and you will not be building more dysfunction over dysfunction. Another good time would be right before a massage and even Yoga. This again will make it easier to really release and open up.  Give it 24-48 hrs before you focus on the same area again. Self myofascial release can still be treated as a form of exercise so certain precautions need to be taken.  If you have any of the following conditions, as always, check with your doctort:  connective tissue disorders such as Fibromyalgia, Ankylosing Spondylitis (just be cautious), skin disturbances (such as pressure sores, bruises or eczema), visual or balance disorders, significant cardiac or pulmonary conditions and pregnancy. For more information on the current research into Foam Rollers, see this link!   I would love to hear from you and your experience with foam rolling. Are you a fan or is this your first time hearing of it? See you on your next workout and until then, get to that Foam Roller! Follow Moni to connect on Face Book, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram (-to get a look of my everyday eats!)


Moni xx
Love Monica Nelson

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Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that I am not a Registered Dietitian. While my advice relies on my own personal experience and research, what has been successful for myself and others may be not best for you. You should always consult your doctor when making changes to your diet. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me at monica@monicanelsonfitness.com.

4 Comment to “What is Foam Rolling?”

  1. You know, whenever I go to Pilates, my instructor makes me lay on a foam roller vertically… It doesn’t do all that much so I really have never seen the point in foam rolling. That being said, I know BILLIONS of people swear by it. I always ask my instructor if we can do something else with it… But nope, WE NEVER DO!

    • 🙂 Gigi, That is great to lay on the foam roller vertically (opens up tight chest) however there is SO SO SO much you can get out of a foam roller. Your Pilates instructor needs to show you guys some foam rolling love. 😉 xx

  2. Chatelaine says:

    I have that love/hate relationship with foam rolling. i schedule it once a week right now since i don’t do it more often. Friday mornings are foam roller fridays for me. a few years ago I used to get lower back pain and injuries. I did pilates 3 times a week, ran and weight lifted and couldn’t figure out why i hurt my back 4 times a year, almost like clock work. a physical therapist friend introduced me to a deeper stretch for my quads and I added in the foam roller for my legs and back and wouldn’t you know it, it’s been years since my back went out. if I feel the tightness i get out the foam roller and it really helps me out! no more over use injuries for me thank you!

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