In my personal training sessions and group classes, I always strive to provide a workout that requires little more (if anything) than the individual herself. After all, our own bodies are uniquely tailored to ourselves. However, occasionally, the simplest of tools can provide that extra bit of diversity and challenge that you may need to hone in on your workout, keep up your motivation and your mind and body engaged. It may be complete coincidence, but in several conversations I had in the past couple weeks, different people commented on how they recently discovered or are re-discovering the foam roller. This hugely versatile prop can have great therapeutic effects as well as be used for various core-strengthening and balance building exercises.
Everyone has a tight spot - or tight spots should I say. If you are a runner, it may be the iliotibial band and hamstrings. If you are a nursing mother, it may be the shoulders and neck. If you sit at a desk all day, it may be the erector spinae muscles (and numb / inactivated gluteals!).
Take a moment to do a body check. Look at yourself in the mirror side on and identify some of the postural misalignments that may be apparent to you or seek assistance from a fitness professional or healthcare provider for a more accurate and detailed check. Correct posture is the very basic building block to long lasting health and fitness (and a whole separate blog topic!). You are also probably aware of certain muscle tightness that may be hindering your body from performing at its optimal level, whether it is for exercise or every day activities.
So if you clocked a lot of miles running / jogging lately, lie sideways with your hands on the floor and place the foam roller (horizontally) under the top of your thigh (hip bone). Roll down towards your knee and then back up. Spend extra time on any particularly tender spots you come across. To increase the pressure, take your feet off the ground.
Or grab that foam roller to stretch tight shoulders and chest muscles - lie on it with your head, neck, spine and tailbone supported on the foam roller (here you will need a long roller - 36”+). With your palms facing up, raise your arms overhead and circle them down towards your ribcage until your arms form a “W” position. Hold the position and take 3-5 deep belly breaths. Close your eyes. Take a moment to rest and digest.
People would often ask me what foam roller they should purchase - and the answer is, it depends on you! Just like with a massage, you know what you prefer and what your muscles respond to the best. For example, if you want a more intense, deep pressure release or if you are targeting some of the larger muscle groups, you will probably want to take this into account in choosing the size and density of your foam roller. And know of course that even with a firmer foam roller, the amount of pressure you apply to your muscles is largely controlled by the amount of pressure you put on it with your own body weight.
Similar to the BOSU and the balance pad, the foam roller is an excellent device to further challenge your balance and thereby build a stronger core. The foam roller can be incorporated into many of the traditional strengthening exercises to further tap into your postural muscles (abdominals, spine, diaphragm and pelvic floor). Your focus on the exercise will also improve as you will need a little extra concentration to avoid going off balance. So, next time you are doing your push ups, try placing your hands on a foam roller rather than on the floor. Or place your feet on the foam roller when performing your shoulder bridge. Of course, these suggestions do not apply if you are pregnant! Pregnancy is NOT the time to be testing your balance as your center of gravity is shifted and your risk of fall greater and consequences likely to be more severe.
Look out for our exercise library coming soon to our website for more ideas on incorporating your foam roller into your workout and stretch regime.
Remember, as with everything when it comes to health & wellness, consistency is key. If you are using the foam roller to reduce chronic tightness, make it a daily routine - or 2 to 3 times a day if you can fit it in. And for the smaller muscle groups that are hard to reach with a foam roller, try using a tennis ball or any other ball with similar density.
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