It’s awesome and quite frankly every aerialist should have one, know what to do with one and use it on a regular basis.

The foam roller allows you to release muscle tightness or trigger points by self massage, technical term for this being ‘self-myofascial release’. By applying pressure to specific points on your body tight, sore, knotted muscles can be allowed to return to their normal, elastic, fully functioning state. Releasing trigger points helps to re-establish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and ultimately enhance performance.

If you are deeply into your stretching you should definitely be foam rolling – stretching alone is not always enough to release muscles tightness. Combine or alternate a stretch session with a dose of foam rolling and you will probably  get to the desired result much faster.

Foam rolling is also essential if you are suffering from tight, sore muscles say if you have been training aerial a lot. Foam rolling can assist in breaking up these muscle knots, resuming normal blood flow and function.

Do I Have Tight Muscles or Trigger Points?

Trigger points are specific ‘knots’ that form in muscles. They are unique and can be identified because they will ‘refer’ pain (i.e. pain will be felt in other areas of the body when a trigger point is massaged). Try rolling your IT band – this usually causes pain to radiate up to the hip or all the way down the leg to the ankle.

Why Am I Doing Something That Hurts?

When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.

It is commonly understood that a deep tissue massage may be uncomfortable and at times painful as the knots are worked out of your body. The great thing about foam rolling is that it allows you the control of how much pressure you want to apply, as only you can feel exactly what is going on in your body.

So how does foam rolling really work?

Deep compression helps to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings. Imagine you are tenderising your own muscles. They should be soft and supple like a baby’s muscles. However, if our muscles are not taken care of properly we can experience loss of flexibility, adhesions, and painful movement. The deep compression of self-myofascial release allows normal blood flow to return and the restoration of healthy tissue.

How Do I Know What to Foam Roll and How to Do It?

Trigger points and tight muscles can be found through self-exploration. To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight. You should roll slowly, no more than one inch per second. When you find areas that are tight or painful, pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible. You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after 5-30 seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen.

Remember it is not a pain tolerance test!

If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area. The goal is to restore healthy muscles – and not to test your pain thresholds.

Never roll a joint or bone and avoid rolling your lower back. To get into small tight areas a tennis ball or even golf ball can be good. If you are having issues with your neck, refer these issues to an appropriate medical professional, as these areas can be more sensitive and require more advanced attention.

What Happens After Foam Rolling?

You may be sore the next day. It should feel as if your muscles have been worked/released, however you should not push yourself to the point of excessive soreness. Drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and eat clean. This will help to flush your system and fuel your muscles more effectively. Give it a day or so before focusing on the same area again.

Foam rollers are not the only way to get rolling. Foam rolling is part of a bigger category known as Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), or self-massage. So, whether you use a foam roller or a roller that looks like a tire, or a softball, foot massager, or stick those squishy spiky balls under your heels… it’s all the same principle, sharing the same philosophy as massage therapy and other manual techniques used for many, many years.

To better understand self-myofascial release, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about fascia

Fascia is a web of tissue connecting the body’s compartments. Fascia’s job is to provide stability and directional pull for the muscles to best accomplish their jobs. Injury and repetitive use can contribute to fascia becoming less pliable, essentially building scar tissue and resulting in reduced range of motion, pain, and shortening of the surrounding muscles.

Myofascial release is designed to massage the damaged fascia and restore its natural pliability, while suppressing receptors that are stimulating the associated muscle tightness. Self-myofascial release allows the individual to monitor pain by conducting this process herself.

SMR brings additional blood flow to the area you are rolling, and perhaps for this reason has been integrated into many athletes’ warm-up routines. While this may prime the body for movement and sometimes feels good (other times it feels like a million needles poking into your thigh), the body responds in much the same way it responds to static stretching before activity.

The long and the short of foam rolling

Will foam rolling make you less sore? Maybe.

Less tight? Probably.

But remember that soreness and tightness in small doses are a healthy part of the training process, and a signal to perhaps slow down a little bit instead of willing our bodies to try and do more and more.

There is a lack of convincing evidence to support long-lasting changes in muscle length by using SMR techniques on their own. In other words, SMR may not cause increased flexibility, per se, but can make traditional strength and flexibility training more effective by altering how the brain communicates with muscles to produce effective movement patterns.

Understand that certain areas of your body are supposed to be tight. So go for it on your hips, butt, calves, thighs, and upper/middle back, but avoid the joints that are designed for stability: your knees, lower back, and neck. If you’re feeling pain in those places, spend time and energy seeing a doctor or physical therapist instead.

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