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Kick those Kinks

September 22, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

If you’ve seen the white or black cylindrical foam rollers lying around your gym and simply walked past them because you’re not sure what they are for, it’s time to stop, pick one up, and begin using them regularly. Foam rollers can be used as an exercise tool for crunches and some stability work, but this is not what makes them incredibly beneficial to your workout regimen. What they’re really good for is stretching.

Foam rollers are designed to be used as an integral part of your stretching routine. They apply pressure to various muscles by rolling over them, thus creating better tissue quality.  Before you can stretch muscles, you need to make sure the fibers of the muscles are lined up correctly. Otherwise, you will simply be stretching the tissue around “knots” and not actually releasing the “knot”.  The foam roller helps to release knots and trigger points and align the muscle fibers.

The technical term for foam rolling is self-myofascial release. This stretching technique focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body.  By applying gentle force to an adhesion, or “knot,” the elastic fibers of the knotted muscle are altered from a bundled position into a straighter alignment with the direction of the rest of the muscle and/or fascia.  The gentle pressure will stimulate something called the golgi tendon organ, which when stimulated causes the muscle spindles to relax, thus creating more elasticity and flexibility.

When using a foam roller for self-myofascial release, the user must find a tender spot (indicating an adhesion) and focus on applying pressure to that spot until the tenderness is minimized.

Common areas to foam roll include:

Calves

Hamstrings

Glutes

Low back

Hip flexors

Lats

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