Benefits of Foam Rolling Classes

Foam Rolling: The Simple Way to Give Yourself a Sports Massage

Foam rolling
Rolling the upper back. Laura Williams

If you haven't hopped on a foam roller yet, it's time to give it a go. Foam rolling is a form of self-massage or self-myofascial release that can help loosen up tight muscles and "trigger points" that occur when contracted muscle fails to fully release. These adhesions, or knots, can be experienced by people of all ages and fitness levels, and they often result in poor blood and nutrient circulation to the muscle fiber, which can lead to pain or injury.

Of course, most people would prefer a deep massage a couple times a week to the self-inflicted discomfort of foam rolling, but ponying up the cash for such services isn't an affordable option for most people. Foam rolling opens up an affordable avenue for serious muscle work without the expense of a personal masseuse.

Pliable muscles are healthy muscles, so it's important to take steps to keep your muscles loose and strong.

Foam rollers are exactly what they sound like—cylindrical rolls of dense foam that you lean on and roll over to create a self-massage. The simple tool was first used in the therapy industry, but started popping up in fitness centers in the early 2000s. It's now a commonly accepted piece of equipment used to massage, stretch, and even strengthen the muscles.

Benefits of Foam Rolling

The benefits of foam rolling are many. Adhesions occur when muscle fibers stick to muscle fascia—a sheath of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles—resulting in a knot of tissue that limits the circulation of blood, nutrients, and the elimination of waste, and can lead to pain and injury. When you use a roller to roll along the length of your muscle, you're helping loosen and release these "sticky points," enabling your muscles to return to their original and intended length. The overall result is:

  1. Improved circulation and delivery of oxygen, nutrients, and blood to the muscle. This helps your muscles to function at optimum capacity, to recover efficiently, and to remove waste products effectively.
  2. Decreased pain and soreness. Many muscle knots are painful! They're either painful to the touch, or because of where they're located, they're painful during movement, which can result in an altered range of motion.
  3. Decreased likelihood of injury. If your range of motion is altered due to painful knots or a shortening of the muscle fibers from persistent contraction, you may end up with muscle imbalances or injuries. Rolling out the knots and keeping your muscles long and pliable reduces the likelihood of injury.
  4. Increased range of motion. Regular use of a foam roller can even help you increase your range of motion as you loosen up tight areas and help clear scar tissue.
  5. Cost-effective therapy. You may not be able to afford three massages a week, but you can probably afford a foam roller—even brand name rollers typically cost less than $100. Plus, it's a one-time purchase you can use over and over again.

Benefits of Taking a Foam Roller Class

Foam rolling is a fairly simple undertaking, but just because an activity is simple, that doesn't mean you shouldn't undergo formal instruction to learn the skill. There are lots of good reasons to attend a foam rolling recovery class if you have one available to you through your gym or an online fitness service. The most common benefits of attending a class include:

  1. Quality instruction. You have the benefit of receiving formal instruction on how to effectively target major muscle groups and release adhesions.
  2. Total-body programming. Since most people tend to skip muscle groups when going through their own foam rolling routine, a class is a good way to target all of your major muscle groups for a full-body self-massage.
  3. Access to additional tools. Many self-myofascial release or recovery classes provide students with an array of tools beyond the basic foam roller. This gives you a chance to try different options before settling on the tools that work the best for you.
  4. Obligatory recovery time. Much like stretching, it's easy to skip foam rolling when you're short on time. By attending a class, you're obligating yourself to put in the time for this critical recovery work.

Foam rolling, self-myofascial release, and recovery classes are growing in popularity, so check your gym's schedule to see if there are available classes. If not, ask a trainer or fitness manager if they would consider hosting a workshop for interested members. While the act of foam rolling is simple, it's always a good idea to have a professional run you through the paces the first time you try.

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.