HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FOAM ROLL?
Before I jump into how often, let me explain what foam rolling really is.
Foam rolling is a kind of self-myofascial release (SMR) – your doing your own work to release those tight spots in your muscles and fascia and keep your body fluid and supple.
So how does this work?
First, think of a sponge. When you squeeze a wet sponge, you force all the water to rush out. Then when you release it, that water can soak right back in. If that sponge dries, then it gets hard and brittle.
This is sorta what happens with your muscles and tissues. When you put your muscle on the foam roller, you put a lot of compression on that specific muscle and fascia. That compression forces out the old blood to make room for some fresh stuff to rush in. It keeps things nice and juicy. But that compression does more than just keep the blood flowing. It gives a solid dose of compression to get out any tight or sore spots.
You see, when the blood isn’t flowing smoothly and everything isn’t nice and juicy, your fascia becomes hard, just like that sponge. And when it hardens, it hardens to everything around it – like other tissues that it shouldn’t normally be connecting to. When those tissues connect, they stop your range of motion and decrease your flexibility. It’s like trying to squat in skin tight jeans – those jeans are going to keep you from getting down low.
The pressure from the foam rolling helps to get those connections unstuck and keep your skin, nerves, muscles and tendons all sliding smoothly against each other without getting sticky. This means you get better ranges of motions, faster recovery and pain free movements.
So how often you should foam roll depends on your body and your workouts.
The people who benefit the most from foam rolling are the ones who do it more. So if your schedule allows, foam roll every day! If you can’t squeeze it in daily, aim for a minimum of 3-4 times per week.
Now do you need to roll your whole body every day? Not really. You don’t train every muscle every single day and you don’t have to foam roll every muscle every day either. Just roll the muscles that were the focus of your training or the ones that are sore and tight from your training the last few days.
But here’s the thing about foam rolling: most people do it wrong.
Foam rolling is a painfully slow process. Because you’re looking for those knots and trigger points and then you’re applying deep pressure to disconnect the connections that aren’t supposed to be there.
It’s a verrrryy slow roll, yet most people speed through it. But that quick roll isn’t going to give you much benefit.
Let’s say you’re rolling your IT bands. You should start at the hip and roll down to the knee, focusing on each inch of pressure. You should be able to say half the alphabet (just a normal alphabet, not a Speedy Gonzales one), before you get from the hip to the knee. That’s how slow you should go.
But as soon as you feel any pain, tightness or knots, it should take much longer. As you’re rolling down the leg, as soon as you hit a spot that gives you pain, pressure, or is extremely tight, you should pause, for at least 10 seconds, to give that tight spot a good dose of release. After those holding 10 seconds are done, spend about 10 more seconds rocking side to side slowly, just to hit every part of that muscle. So every sore, tight spot should get about 20 seconds of extra slow focus. Once those are done, keep rolling down the leg until you hit the next tight spot.
And then you should roll back up to the hip and repeat the whole thing about 3-4 more times.
So is foam rolling good for you? Heck yes!
Is it time consuming if done right? Heck yes!
But in the long run, that time spent rolling is going to help your mobility, your progress and your general health and function. So I’d say the time is worth the investment.
And if you’re feeling pain and are left sore after your foam rolling session, that means you need to foam roll more! In theory, a limber and mobile body could be foam rolled daily, with that slow method, without hitting any tight or sore spots! So when you find those sticky spots, give them plenty of love and keep rolling ’em.
Moral of the story: foam roll slowly and foam roll often.