One of the best things I did for myself this year was to start using a foam roller...and no, I don't mean for my hair...
|I'm talking about one of these bad boys...and no, that's not me.|
For basically all of my 14 years of running I've been plagued with numerous injuries, predominantly relating to my illiotibial band ("IT band"). I would stretch and take yoga, but nothing seemed to stop the sides of my legs/knees from feeling like someone had beaten them with a baseball bat during and after my longer runs. Plus, my hips and hip flexors were wicked tight. I just figured it came with the territory as a runner.
Then earlier this year, I changed my running form (hopefully the topic of a future blog), which helped immensely with my various pains (albeit there were new growing pains associated with the new form, but those worked themselves out as my form improved). In addition, I started seeing an accupuncturist (hopefully another future blog topic) to heal my various training injuries. Finally, instead of all the stretching, I started using a foam roller after my runs and bike rides. The result of these three things: I actually love running now! I don't just do it to lose weight or stay healthy - I actually feel like a runner and am able to enjoy the simple pleasure of running.
So, what the heck is a foam roller? It looks like a pool noodle but more dense, not as long, and bigger around. About.com's Sports Medicine page contains a good description: "Foam rollers offer many of the same benefits as a sports massage, without the big price tag. The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues."
If you have sore or tight calves, glutes, hip adductors, or IT bands, a foam roller would be worth a try. According to Strength Coach, "[r]olling can provide great benefit both before and after a workout. Foam rolling prior to a workout can help to decrease muscle density and allow for better warm-up. Rolling after a workout may help to aid in recovery from strenuous exercise. The nice thing about using the foam roller is that it appears it can be done on a daily basis."
Depending on your soreness, you should roll for 5-10 minutes. Also, although I use foam rolling instead of stretching, you should figure out what's best for you. For me, I tend to over-stretch and stretching just seemed to be causing me more injuries. If you've been successfully stretching, then maybe you can just incorporate the foam roller a few times a week for added benefit. If you're like me though and don't seem to get much benefit from stretching, maybe you should start with a foam roller until you can get your muscles to a point where stretching can be more beneficial.
I must make you aware that foam rolling can be painful, depending on your particular muscular issue. It should never cause bruising and it shouldn't be so painful that you can't stand it. But this type of deep massage that works at myofascial release and breaking up adhesions in your tissues isn't going to feel like a day at the spa. But stick with it - it will get better and you will reap the benefits. When I first started using the foam roller on my IT bands, it nearly brought me to tears; but, consistent usage over the past 9 months, and my IT bands feel smoother, looser, and don't have the bumps and knots they once had, which I could feel as I moved them over the foam roller. It may take awhile to work out all those adhesions - which you've taken a long time to build up - but it's worth it.
Now for the disclaimer/cautionary note: Make sure to consult a doctor before you engage in any physical activity and you may want to seek the advice of a physical therapist, coach, or doctor before using a foam roller. Blah, blah, blah...Just go buy one and Google how to use it, be careful not to do anything stupid with it, and please avoid doing any rolling with your spinal cord and neck. And you probably shouldn't let your kids play with it or leave it anywhere that would make the dog think it's a chew toy....
Here are a few websites I found with good foam roller exercises:
- Boston Sports Medicine Blog
- Runner's World
- Strength Coach (contains a good discussion of the benefits and uses of foam rollers and has detailed descriptions/videos of diverse exercises)
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