Ever since I was introduced to CrossFit, I would go to class and see people using the foam roller before and after class. This is also known as self-myofascial release. The coaches would tell us specifically how to use it in preparation for the WOD (workout of the day). Most coaches would have their own methods they prefer on how we should use them. The way to use the foam roller is dependent on what specifically you are trying to work on. In this post, I outline the type of foam rollers I have experience with and the ways I use them. You can find plenty of foam roller reviews on each one of these on their product pages.
Soft Foam Rollers
These foam rollers are the most popular and standard type. The standard sizes are from 18 to 36 inches. The larger they are the easier and more comfortable they are to navigate around areas that need rolling. After using soft foam rollers in areas that cause you the most pain, you may want to graduate to foam rollers that are more firm or even very hard ones.
One of the more popular soft foam roller or back roller on Amazon is the OPTP PRO-Roller Soft Density Foam Roller. There’s also the LuxFit Foam Roller which is extra firm, but still soft. There are plenty of foam roller reviews on these particular items.
Hard Foam Rollers
After you desensitize your more sensitive areas to foam rolling, you can try harder foam rollers. Although the base material is still foam on the outside, many of them have a hard rigid core that can still support heavy loads in case you’re extra-large in size which, in these days of overconsumption in the midst of an obesity epidemic, most people are.
TriggerPoint has a very highly rated one that comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Foam roller reviewers love this one.
Foam Rolling Exercises
Everyone should focus their recovery on the specific issues they are having. I focus my foam rolling in 3 areas where I either have weaknesses in or areas that I tend to overwork. Whether its the placebo effect or not, I find that foam rolling helps my recovery in these specific areas.
- Thoracic mobility – Before I found CrossFit, my thoracic mobility was shit. I was one of those guys that were always hunched over, looking like I was unsure of myself and low in self-confidence. Because of CrossFit and all the movements that suffered due to this lack of mobility, I was forced to improve my thoracic mobility and flexibility with tons of exercises with and without foam rollers. Here’s a list of videos that show foam rolling exercises that could help with your thoracic mobility.
- Lat and Rotator Cuff – CrossFit can really destroy your rotator cuff if you don’t practice proper technique and make sure you have good mobility, strength, and flexibility in the right areas. Due to the volume of training of pulling (chest-to-bar pull-ups, muscle-ups) and pushing (thrusters, dips, presses) exercises in CrossFit, my lats and shoulders take a beating. I use the foam roller to help loosen up the areas, circulate blood and break up scar tissue whenever I can. Here are a few videos that show you how to do this.
- Legs – Squatting, jumping, lunging and deadlifts can beat up your legs. Foam rolling helps me alleviate issues I have when I overdo it. I find that when my knee feels a bit rough from all the leg movements, foam rolling around the affected area helps in the recovery. Same with my calves, inner and outer thighs. Here are a few videos for how you can roll out your legs.
Effectiveness of Foam Rolling
So does foam rolling really have positive effects in recovery? Does it really help your range of motion and mobility? The research either leans to foam rolling having positive effects or at worst, “possibly” positive effects with very little downside. Anecdotally, I’ve been foam rolling for years with noticeable benefits and will continue to do so. That being said, here are some articles on studies or research regarding foam rolling:
- A review of the effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller – “The results of this analysis suggests that foam rolling and roller massage may be effective interventions for enhancing joint ROM and pre and post exercise muscle performance. However, due to the heterogeneity of methods among studies, there currently is no consensus on the optimal SMR program.”
- An article talking about foam rolling for recovery and range of motion improvement – The conclusion states that foam rolling can help both in range of motion improvements, recovery, and even performance in a vertical leap test.
- A review on the studies of various benefits and potential negatives of foam rolling – Probably the safest non-controversial conclusion that states that there are possibly many short-term benefits but the long-term benefits are not as clear.