The use of foam rollers has exploded in popularity across Ireland in recent years. Helped possibly by the likes of Munster Winger Keith Earls and Beckham’s old team LA Galaxy. These sports stars and others can often be seen using foam rollers during training, warm-ups and even physio sessions. They’re not the only ones reaping the roller benefits.

Popular with physiotherapists, trainers, professional athletes, yoga fans and gym goers alike, foam rollers seemingly appeared from nowhere. However, in one form or another they have been used as part of physical training programs for more than 70 years. First notably used by Moshé Feldenkrais in the 1950’s in his popular system of exercise called the Feldenkrais Method.

Foam rollers can be beneficial at all levels of fitness and are available in a variety of sizes and designs. Below, we have compiled some of the top benefits of foam rolling and an overview of the different roller types.

Benefits of Foam Rolling

1. Improve all over Flexibility

Good flexibility can help reduce pain, as well as prevent injuries. Not only that, but greater flexibility has been proven to increase physical performance in most sporting disciplines.  Improving your flexibility can also make you stronger and improve your balance.

Not all of us are naturally flexible and that’s ok. Over time, everyone loses the flexibility they once had. Sedentary jobs and lifestyles, injury, and the natural ageing process all contribute to reduced flexibility. The good news is that, with a little effort, you can regain and improve your flexibility.

Whether you are looking to improve your flexibility to improve mobility or for sport performance results, foam rollers can help.

To improve your flexibility using a foam roller, use it pre and post workout. Carefully use your foam roller to target the major muscles and muscle groups. Start with your legs and roll your quads, hamstrings and calves. Next, move to your upper body and roll out your lats (sides of your back), then upper back and shoulder.

At first, you might experience some soreness when rolling. This is to be expected to a certain extent as your muscles are not used to such direct pressure. Start gradually with short sessions and increase the time of sessions as the soreness decreases.

2. Improve Core Strength

As well as being useful for preparing and repairing your body for activity, foam rollers can help with strengthening. Using a foam roller whilst performing your usual situps and mat work for example adds an intensity level.

For beginners, a foam roller can help you practice engaging your core. Engaging your core helps to prevent injury whilst you work out. However, not everyone finds it easy and practising with a foam roller can speed up the learning process.

Using a foam roller for engaging your core:

  • Lie on your foam roller with your legs bent and head and neck supported.
  • Check you can slide your hand easily beneath your lower back.
  • Make sure you keep your breathing steady. Many people hold their breath.
  • Pull in your belly button toward your spine without moving your hips or spine.
  • Hold for a few seconds and release.
  • Repeat 10 times a day before a workout or until it starts to come naturally.

For more advanced moves, try adding a foam roller to exercises such as sit-ups, bicycle crunches, and dead bugs. For the ultimate balance challenge, use your roller for seated knee tucks and v-crunches.

Tip: When lying on the foam roller, make sure it supports your head, neck and back.

3. Pain Relief

Foam rollers are a handy home remedy for helping to reduce muscle pain and sometimes back pain. Using a foam roller is a simple way to target and massage key areas, for example, your glutes.  You might hear this form of self-massage referred to as self-myofascial release or SMR.

By using a foam roller, you are helping your body to increase blood flow and reduce tension—both of which aid recovery.

It’s not only gym fans or athletes who can benefit from the pain-relieving benefits of foam rolling. Anyone experiencing sciatica pain or stiffness from sitting at a desk all day can experience great results.  Using a foam roller to target a problem like sciatica lets you take control of your rehabilitation.

Before using your foam roller to target pain from an existing injury or issue, speak to your GP or physio.

4. Stiffness & Loosing Hamstrings

One of the most common complaints when it comes to mobility is tight hamstrings. Symptomised by leg stiffness or a tenderness in the back of the leg, tight hamstrings can restrict movement. Tight hamstring symptoms aren’t always constantly present. Instead, you might find that your legs are sore if you bend to pick something up or stretch.

People often assume that tight hamstrings are something that can’t be remedies. When in fact, with a little daily exercise, you can loosen your hamstrings considerably.

Using a foam roller to loosen hamstrings:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out front of you.
  • Support yourself with your hands on the floor behind you in line with your shoulders.
  • Place your foam roller beneath your knees.
  • Lift yourself up using your arms.
  • Slowly walk forwards on your hands so that the roller moves up your hamstrings, massaging as it goes.
  • Carefully reverse and return to a seated position.
  • Repeat 4-5 daily or as part of your normal workout schedule.

Types of Foam Roller

Yoga Roller

Despite the name, these rollers are used for more than yoga. A Yoga Roller tends to be the smoothest of the foam roller options. They are usually around 90cm long and similar to the texture of a pool noodle. Yoga Rollers can be used for all of the benefits listed above and are popular with beginners.

Mini Foam Rollers

Mini foam rollers like the Urban Fitness EVA Mini Massage Roller have a textured surface and shorter appearance. The size is more for portability than anything else, though the texture is intentional. A textured foam roller helps to give a better targeted and deeper massage. Some have a slightly raised tread pattern, others have raised areas of different sizes.

Peanut Massage Balls

Specifically designed for difficult to massage areas, peanut massage balls have a central groove to avoid the spine. They can be used standing against a wall or lying down for different muscle groups.

Massage Roller Sticks

A clever design, the 3 Ball Massage Roller Stick are designed to help every muscle. Similar to the ExaFit Adjustable Massage Stick, these stick massagers have a handle at either end. The massage balls are independent of one another, helping you target trigger points.

Small and lightweight, these types of rollers are useful for all-over massage. Held with one hand, they can be used for the neck and shoulders. With two hands, massage your upper and lower back, quads or glutes.

Foam Roller Tips

  1. Like all exercises, ensure that you stay hydrated while using a foam roller. Better hydration will help flush out the toxins released from your muscles by the foam roller.

2. Avoid any areas of bone, like the ankles, knees and hip bone when using a foam roller.

3. Always consult a medical professional when experiencing prolonged or sudden pain.

4. Support the neck and spine at all times.