Foam rollers are increasingly prevalent in the post-game recovery regimes of professional athletes, although this form of stretching been around for quite some time as a means of undoing knots and relaxing damaged muscle.
The benefit of foam rolling is that it allows you to use your own body mass to achieve this, realigning your biomechanical system after a hard workout or a punishing match.
Fitness trainers have propagated the myth that foam rolling will help you limber up before a workout; it is only an advantage in the warm-up if you have some mobility dysfunction but for someone who moves without pain, it is better to use the time and energy for your training to come.
This is how I roll
With foam rolling, there are a few tips in general on how to make sure your muscles are mollified and your limbs loose. You should always go gently so that every muscle is rolled out and specific regions are worked on; then you should focus on those knotted areas by passing to and fro over them for a minute or so.
Try foam rolling after training, rather than before, to stimulate the receptors in your nervous system through external pressure and relieve muscle pain – this is the chief benefit of all self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises such as foam rolling.
It is a myth that it will increase your overall strength, stamina, suppleness or mobility for good, but it will reduce the time you spend in recovery by lessening inflammation and lymphatic pooling and increasing the blood flow into those damaged areas.
Putting your back into it
There are many benefits that come from foam-rolling your back, and especially de-kinking your upper spine. The thoracic spine roll-out will increase your mobility, so reducing any tightness in your neck, lower back, shoulders and hips and preventing bad posture and pain.
If you lie on your foam roller so it’s horizontal under your upper back, you can bend your knees, with your feet planted flat on the floor and your backside raised up.
Then cross your arms over your chest and use your back to move the roller up and down your spine gently for a minute between the bottom of your neck and the top of your lower back.
It may be uncomfortable at first but it will loosen your spine, bringing your mobility back to its regular level and leavening any back pain.
Give yourself fresh legs
Foam rolling acts as a kind of sports massage with the need of an expensive trainer. If your core and spine are the powerhouse of your body, then the legs are its very foundations, and you should try to stimulate the blood flow to them post-game with those two simple exercises.
Firstly, the quad roll-out will improve circulation and oxygenate the tired tissues and muscles. Lie on the foam roller so you are facing the floor and the roller is under your thighs. Then, with your arms providing propulsive force, move it from your hips to your knees for about a minute, unless you have specific sore areas.
Then try the hamstring roll-out, by sitting on the foam roller, so it’s under one of your thighs. Your other leg will be bent with your heel on the floor. Support yourself with your arms (palms on the floor) and move the roller from your backside down to the back of your knee.
Repeat this movement back and forth for 60 seconds, before moving the roller under your other thigh. The leg under which the roller moves should be fully extended.
Rolling away the running and lifting
Foam rolling is especially beneficial to runners and bodybuilders – and rugby players by extension. When you lift weights, or run for a while at various speeds, the repetitive motion damages the tissues and muscles you use. An especially good foam-rolling exercise, one with all the benefits that can with SMR workouts, is the IT band roll-out: this works the fascia that runs from your hip to your knee, the band that can get pranged after constant running.
With the foam roller trapped under your right hip, lie on your side, supporting yourself with your right elbow.
Move the roller from your hip to your knee, back and forth, adjusting the amount of body weight you put on it until you feel comfortable. Start light and do this for 60 seconds.