Working out regularly will help you hold on to your flexibility, mobility, and independence. And using a simple tool may improve this grip on fitness by priming the muscles and making your workouts more effective.
The tool is called a foam roller. It looks like a fat tube or a bolster pillow for a bed. To use it, you slowly roll an area of your body — like your upper back, hips, or calves — back and forth across the top of the roller.
"Foam rolling seems to make muscles more receptive to stretching and moving. It's the best thing I've found to make people feel better immediately in the over 15 years I've been doing this
Foam rolling benefits
Foam rolling helps release tension in the muscles, relieve muscle soreness, and improve flexibility and range of motion. It's not clear exactly how that happens. The current theory is that the sustained pressure on the muscle signals the central nervous system to reduce tension, like the effect of a deep tissue massage.
Releasing tension makes tight muscles more receptive to stretching. After foam rolling you get about a 10-minute window of increased flexibility. "That enhances stretching exercises and helps you move better in a workout."
Just roll with it
A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you determine which muscles will benefit from foam rolling, and then guide you through the process.
You'll typically sit or lie on a mat on the floor, place a body part on top of the roller, then move it back and forth until you find a tender spot in your muscle. Hold [on that spot] for 30 to 90 seconds until you get a reduction in tenderness. It's important to breathe deeply during that process, to help relax the muscles.
For example, to roll your calf muscle, sit on the mat with your legs in front of you and your hands behind you for support. Place one calf on top of the roller and move your leg back and forth over it.
To roll your quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh, do a modified plank (like a push-up, propped up on your elbows) while lying with your hips and thighs on top of the roller (see photo above). Then move forward and backward over the roller.
Who's a candidate for rolling?
Bento says most people will benefit from foam rolling as part of a pre- or post-workout routine, or simply as a quick break from sitting. "The hip, shoulder, and ankle muscles can become very tight from long periods of sitting on a couch or at a desk. "Rolling for just a few minutes can help loosen them."
This blog is updated by Tranquillity 360 fitness personal trainers, as well as other guest bloggers.