How to Begin the Life-Changing Practice of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling, a technique where you use a foam cylinder to massage your muscles and tissue, often gets a pat on the back for being a great post-workout recovery tool. But as Felix Schmieder, personal training manager at City Fitness’s Northern Liberties location, points out, foam rolling is no one-trick pony. In fact, he and the Thrive trainers are big fans of working foam rolling in before a workout to hydrate, warm up and loosen muscles, increasing the payoff of each exercise done afterward. Because we all want to get the most out of a killer set of squats, am I right?

As Schmieder points out, many of us hit the gym after a workday spent sitting at a desk for hours on end. All this sitting means your hip muscles are bound to be tight. So, when you go to do a set of squats without foam rolling beforehand, you won’t be able to squat very deep because your hip muscles will be so tight that they won’t allow your butt muscles to complete the movement. (Darn you, desk chairs!) By foam rolling tight areas like your hips before a workout, you’ll be able move better and truly complete the movements in your workout, making your gym session as a whole more effective. Yes, please!

You can see a full tutorial on foam rolling here, but the simplest way to explain the process is to work your way up and down your body, rolling on the foam to massage your muscles and tissue, avoiding joints and bones. This releases tightness, helping you to move better throughout your workout, and brings hydration and blood flow to the muscles, which helps with recovery.

So, now that you’re convinced to work foam rolling to your pre-workout routine, below are Schmieder’s top foam rolling dos and don’ts to take note of before you hit the mat.

Don’t forget about your feet. When you think of the muscles that might need attention, you’re likely forgetting your foundation: your feet! Before a workout, Schmieder likes for his clients to start their foam rolling routine with their feet, using a tennis or lacrosse ball to massage the tissue. As he notes, “There are a lot of tissues in our feet that affect the rest of our body,” so you don’t want to skip ‘em.

Do get uncomfortable. As Schmieder says, “We see a lot of people foam rolling and they might be reading Facebook,” and feeling comfortable enough to comment on your cousin’s picture of her new baby is not what foam rolling should look like. “Foam rolling should be uncomfortable,” he says. So make sure you are putting enough pressure on your muscles to really feel it—but not so much that you’re tearing up.

Don’t spend half your workout foam rolling. “If you’re in the gym for an hour-long workout, foam rolling should be five minutes of your time,” Schmieder says. “Beyond that is a waste of time. The most important part of coming to the gym is that you need to train. Foam rolling helps you get a little better at that.”

Do become a master of consistency. “For most people, foam rolling should be worked in before every workout,” Schmieder notes. “It just helps you move better—your workouts will be more effective.” Plus, having a consistent foam rolling practice allows you to pinpoint your tight areas (we’re all different) and zone in on those before a workout to really optimize your sweat sessions.

Don’t be afraid to switch it up. “I think the biggest thing for people with foam rolling is just playing around with it,” Schmieder says. Don’t be afraid to use things like tennis balls and lacrosse balls. A foam roller is just a big block of foam, but smaller tools can help you target other areas.”

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