Everyone knows you are supposed to stretch before engaging in exercise to limber up. But what if stretching hurts?
“Think of your muscles as shoelaces,” advises Mike Ross, exercise physiologist, Gottlieb Center for Fitness. “If you have a knot in your muscle, stretching pulls it tighter.”
The answer to eliminating the knots and restoring optimal flexibility is foam rollers.
Not the pink foam rubber variety used to curl hair, but rather the large, plastic foam cylindrical shapes used in floor exercise. “Foam rollers are a way to improve muscle length and reduce the potential for injury,” says Ross. “Rather than pulling your muscles as in traditional stretching, you are kneading them and breaking up adhesions in the muscle to loosen up before engaging in more strenuous activity.”
Exercise foam rollers come in all shapes and sizes, from 36-inch, smooth, pool noodle-like rods to thick, stubbed, hard pillow-like cradles. Each is designed to target pressure points. “Foam rollers were traditionally used in rehabilitation by physical therapists with patients and athletes,” says Ross, who works with clients at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. “Like many other specialized devices, foam rollers have now gone mainstream.”
Ross, who has been foam rolling for more than a decade, offers these tips for beginners:
1. Before using a foam roller, boost your blood circulation by walking, biking or exercising for 5 minutes.
2. Foam rollers can be used before or after your workout, or both.
3. The quadriceps (thigh muscles) and calves (back of lower leg) will benefit the most from this tool.
4. Roll your body over the foam roller, up and down the length of the muscle and pause over any painful areas for 30 seconds or more to allow the weight of your body to squeeze the knot against the roller.
5. Avoid rolling over your joints.
“Many people are buying their own foam rollers so they can use them at home, but most health centers also have a large selection of rollers,” says Ross. “At the Gottlieb Center of Fitness, we have many rollers available for people who want to use them during their workout.”