Foam rolling! If you’ve ever been in a gym or Physio clinic, you may have seen a foam roller lying around! The main benefit that comes from foam rolling is the increased circulation of blood to the muscle through vasodilation.
This means that the foam roller rolling back and forth on the muscle is creating heat through friction, which causes the blood vessels to dilate or get bigger. This creates more blood flow through the muscle and allows for the muscle to relax while releasing any tension.
What are the benefits of foam rolling for legs?
Foam rolling can be thought of as a form of self massage. Foam rolling works as a type of myofascial release by applying pressure across the fascia and muscles. Fascia can be thought of as the wrapping paper around a muscle and is a type of connective tissue attached to the muscles through adhesion. If you have ever been at home the day after a workout with muscle soreness, wishing you had kept that massage appointment you canceled, then please stick around to find out how the benefits of foam rolling can help you!
Foam rolling exercises can be used in a warm up before physical activity or exercise in order to focus directly on those tight spots or overall muscle tension. They can also be useful post exercise to reduce muscle soreness. Using a foam roller will allow you to move up and down the entire length of a muscle and is beneficial for larger muscle groups, such as your legs.
Foam rolling is beneficial for areas of your body such as your quads, hamstrings, glutes, or calves because you are able to control the amount of pressure and body weight put onto the foam roller. Alternatively, a massage ball is slightly different as it primarily focuses on smaller, tender spots or smaller areas of muscle knots such as in your back or shoulders.
When should I foam roll my legs?
Lots of research suggests that foam rolling can be helpful before OR after a bout of exercise. Some even show that it can be beneficial without even doing any exercise with it! You can use foam rolling as an addition to your warm up, you can do it as a cool down with your stretches, OR you can do it anytime throughout the day when you have some free time! Just make sure that you are staying on the foam roller for 30 sec-2 mins per body part!
What is “over rolling?"
Foam rolling exercises are most effective in shorter bouts, such as in a warm-up, where the foam rolling can be used to increase your joints range of motion prior to exercise. A foam roller is able to do this by working through the muscle tension or knots throughout a muscle group and the connective tissue that encompasses it. In order to prioritize your body’s wellness a physical therapist may suggest incorporating foam rolling into your daily routine, while ensuring that you don’t “over roll”. Foam rolling exercises should only take about 30 seconds - 2 minutes per muscle group. Foam rolling for a longer period of time could potentially increase your muscle soreness more than prior to rolling out without any additional benefits, therefore, resulting in over rolling.
Leg foam rolling movements to try
Our personal trainer has put together 5 great foam roller exercises that everyone can try as long as you have a foam roller! The foam roller you have at home can be foam, plastic, hard, soft, or anything in between!
Start in a plank position, face down with your mid-thighs on the foam roller and elbows on the ground as shown. Then, slowly army-crawl with your elbows to roll the foam roller up and down the front of your leg. Don’t roll onto any bones, just on the meaty parts of the muscle. When you find a sore spot, stay on it and try to get it to relax! Repeat for about 2 mins.
Start sitting on the foam roller and lean over to one side (as shown). Follow the same steps as foam rolling the quads, move slowly over the glute muscle from the very bottom by your hamstring or sit bones, all the way up to by the waistband of your pants. Along the way, if you find a trigger point or a sore spot, stop and roll back and forth or hold on that spot. Repeat for 1-2 mins per side.
Start sitting with the foam roller under your calves. You can place one leg over the other for more pressure (as shown), or you can leave both legs on the foam roller. You can slowly roll the foam roller back and forth just like rolling the quads and glutes. Try to find sore spots and focus on them, hold pressure there, or roll quickly back and forth over the spot. Moving your feet side to side like windshield wipers is also a good alternative to this exercise. For more pressure, you can lift your bum off the ground and use your arms to roll yourself forward/backward.
Start sitting on the floor with your hands beside you and your legs resting on the foam roller so that the foam roller is underneath your slightly bent knees. You can have both your right leg and left leg on the foam roller so that your weight is able to be equally distributed. Carefully lift your body weight up with the assistance of your hands so that you feel pressure on both the right and left sides of your lower body. Slowly move back and forth on the foam roller. Ensure you are moving between just above the back of the knee and right before your glute. You may notice that some spots are more tender than others where there is increased muscle tension in the hamstrings. Feel free to stop at these points of increased tension to more effectively release this tension and improve your overall body’s wellness.
Start in a plank position, face down, with your forearms on the floor. Slowly roll back and forth so that the foam roller is moving over the muscles on the front of your hip. You may find that it is better to do the right side and then the left side, or vice versa, rather than both hips at once. This will also allow you to better focus on the muscle tension unilaterally in order to gain better results.
Often individuals find they have a lot of muscle tension on their lateral thigh and believe that they need to roll out their iliotibial band. Unfortunately, in contrast to what many people may think, your iliotibial band is not a muscle but rather a giant piece of fascia therefore making it impossible to roll out. There have been many research studies over the years regarding if foam rolling your iliotibial band has any impact on the overall tension of it. Please visit the following link; The Immediate Effects of Foam Rolling and Stretching on Iliotibial Band Stiffness: A Randomized Controlled Trial - PMC (nih.gov) for research showing that short, single foam rolling session have little to no effect on the overall stiffness of the iliotibial band.
Effects from rolling legs
Rolling out your legs can definitely be beneficial for other parts of the body. For example, if you are having upper back pain, lower back pain, or mid back pain it may be due to compensating from muscle tension in your legs. You may begin to walk differently or sit differently due to glute or leg tension, causing an increase in back tension and therefore, pain. By rolling out your legs and glutes you may notice relief from other ailments that are causing you grief in your everyday life. For example, if you find that you are having an increased amount of stress and pain at your knee joint you may find benefit from rolling out your quads. Although foam rolling is a great exercise, there has yet to be any research findings on foam rolling being beneficial for weight loss.
Can rolling out legs help heal any other ailments?
Foam rolling our legs will not directly affect healing of other ailments. However, often if our muscles in our large muscle groups of our lower body have an increased amount of muscle tension, other parts of our body may start to compensate. For example, if you have increased muscle tension in your glutes it may alter the way you walk, therefore, your lower, mid or upper back may also begin to feel affected. If this occurs then your increased muscle tension in your back could indirectly be healed through foam rolling the root of the problem, your glutes.