4 Tips For Effective Foam Rolling

How to roll to improve muscle function, help prevent injuries and speed up recovery

Illustration by Andrew Benson.

Massage therapy eases muscle pain, relieves tension and increases blood flow to promote muscle healing. And, according to Dr. Ryan Emmons, chiropractor and co-owner of Cadence Chiropractic, Sport & Health in Calgary, you can think of foam rolling as self-massage. He recommends rolling once per day, for five to 10 minutes, to improve muscle function, help prevent injuries and speed up recovery.

1. Get the Right Roller The density of your foam roller is key.

“It has to be of therapeutic density,” Emmons says. “If there is inadequate depth to the massage, then it’s much less beneficial and minimally therapeutic.”

Emmons recommends using something like the Travel Roller, a portable roller with three thickness levels, which is dense enough to provide that deep, therapeutic massage.

2. Know How to Roll Right

Big movements aren’t effective — they are both less controlled and less concentrated on the muscle, meaning the massage isn’t as deep or targeted. Use the method Emmons created: it’s called Roll Release Technique and it’s a segmental, controlled approach to foam rolling.

“Envision the muscle as a line, and imagine it broken into pieces. Then, you roll each of those pieces of the muscle, one after the other,” says Emmons. “Instead of big movements, you’re rolling about an inch of muscle at a time at a medium pace.”

3. Position to Roll Safe

Like any therapeutic massage, foam rolling can be a little uncomfortable. But it should never be painful.

“Rolling should be safe on your whole body,” says Emmons. “If you compress your muscle too hard against the roller, you can cause harm. Like any exercise, rolling is all about building up tolerance and advancing properly.”

4. Perfect Your Form

If you need a little more guidance to make sure you’re rolling safely and effectively, consider downloading Emmons’ Foam Roller Techniques app. It’s $3.99 and offers a step-by-step guide with instructional videos to help you properly foamroll at home.

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