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  • The Low down on Foam Rollers

    Foam rollers the low down

    Foam rollers can become indispensable to your recovery toolbox when used correctly but what type should you use and when?

    Foam rollers traditionally come in a variety of makes and models from those made of relatively soft foam (think a pool noodle on steroids) all the way to something that resembles mini pyramids stuck on a hard plastic middle. All of these styles have their time and place and can be very effective when used correctly.

    • The smooth roller. These are great if you’re just starting out. They are the gentlest and most forgiving of all foam rollers. Designed for lighter use you get a general feeling of release rather than targeted trigger points. They are very useful for warming up as you can move over them with a bit more speed to encourage an increased blood flow into the muscles (also bringing with it vital oxygen and nutrients in preparation for exercise). Softer foam rollers can be great at myofasical release (helping to release the fascia surrounding the muscles from the underlying muscle tissue and overlying skin)

    • The ‘grid roller. These rollers normally have a hard plastic middle and dense foam covering. You can still get a variety of styles and firmness within this bracket. When purchasing a grid roller the thicker the middle plastic and the harder the foam feels the tougher and firmer the roller. A softer middle plastic and foam can be a good first step on from the pure foam rollers. Most grid rollers come with different sections including large flat sections (like a tougher basic foam roller and can be used for the same purpose) and sections cut into a grid.

    The grid sections can be great for trigger point and pressure point releases for tight muscles. The key to this is to move slowly over the grid section making sure you apply enough pressure/body weight you can feel the grid but not more than 7/10 on a pain scale. Too much force and pressure, especially applied at speed, is likely to cause the muscle to tense up under the roller. Continued force in this tense state risks micro tears to the muscle fibre leading to bruising, pain/discomfort and likely decreases performance results and increased recovery time.

    When using the roller move slowly over the grid section, when you find an area of tension or more painful section just stop moving and allow the muscle to relax. This may take up to 30seconds. Once that section/spot/area has relaxed gentle and slowly resume moving until you find the next section. Especially on the outside of the quads (vastus lateralis, tensor fasciae latae and sometime the rectus femoris) you may find you only just move away from the section you have just done before you find the next tight spot. Proper and effective rollering can take time and patience but is worth it.

    • ‘pyramid’ rolllers. These are the style of rollers with more triangular shapes and no flat sections. Not advised for your first roller or for quick movement or large sections. These can be used much like the grid sections on the previous roller with slow and steady being the key. They can be great for releasing the calf and under the foot.

    • The tennis/golf/indoor hockey/lacrosse ball tricks. Perfect for those small tight little sections that you just can’t reach to rub yourself or need more direct and focused attention. Great for getting into the glutes, between the shoulder blades, into your pecs when used against the wall/in the palm of your hand.

    A good ball under the foot is a popular one for runners especially if you pop it in the freezer first (a 500ml soft drinks bottle with ridges on, filled with water and frozen can make a great makeshift roller especially for calves and feet). Two balls either taped together or popped in a sock with the end tied right can be great for shins, around the Achilles, and up the back. The beauty of this trick is when joining two balls together you create a natural dip in the middle where you can put your spine thus targeting the muscles either side without putting pressure on the bone.

    Top tips-

    • For any deep work slow and controlled is key

    • Pain levels should never top 7/10

    • If your muscles are cold when you start ensure light gentle faster work to bring in some tissue warmth before any deep work

    • ALWAYS support your body weight. This doesn’t mean tightening the muscle you are working in but using your core, arms, hands, other leg to support your body and control the amount of pressure being applied.

    • When working on the back ensure to keep the core activated and prevent over arching 8e lower back

    • Remember to stay hydrated

    • Foam rolling is good as self help after training sessions but shouldn’t take the place of good quality regular massage. Hands are a much better tool than foam and a good therapist can help identify the cause and treat problems before you end up missing time training

    If you have pain, a new injury or problem, have any medical conditions including diabetes, any undiagnosed conditions, are unsure on how to use a foam roller safely and appropriately, any existing condition where you have not discussed the use of a foam roller in your treatment plan I advise you seek medical/professional support and advice before using a foam roller or similar.

    All images shown are for products that can be found on

    © LJ Sports Therapy and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LJ SportsTherapy and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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