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Ask The Trainer

Everyone can benefit from an inexpensive foam roller

By Chris Antonio | Aug 25, 2012

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out lifting weights, doing cardio and being active can have an excellent effect on your overall health, but it won’t be worth a hill of beans if you’re always injured. That’s why you have to treat your body like a finely tuned machine and properly maintain it or suffer the consequences.

Injuries happen

Experienced runners and weight lifters would all agree on one thing: If you work out long enough, you will experience your fair share of injuries. It’s just a part of life for those of us who pump pig iron and pound the pavement in the quest for self-improvement. So if you are to accomplish great things, you must prevent such issues before they happen.

Trigger points cause pain and injury

Aside from obvious serious injuries such as sprains and muscle tears, runners and weight lifters often experience trigger points. Trigger points or muscle knots are tiny microtears that are caused by hard workouts, lack of stretching or muscle imbalances. They start off as very minor issues that are often not even noticeable but may eventually develop into painful muscle knots that can cause serious pain or injury.

Where do trigger points occur?

The most common trigger point occurs behind either shoulder blade. If you’ve ever had one of these annoying injuries, you’ll know it, because it’s a deep, nagging pain that will cause you to stiffen up and can sometimes make it difficult to turn your neck and head, but this is just one of many places trigger points can appear. The less obvious ones occur in your glutes, quads, IT bands - sides of the legs - and hips. These trigger points can tighten and pull the body out of sync, not only causing pain and tenderness, but putting pressure on joints such as knees, hips and lower back. If they are left untreated, they can wreak havoc on your body and put a serious damper on your workouts.

Enter the foam roller

The best way to prevent and treat trigger points or muscle knots is to use an inexpensive device called a foam roller. A foam roller is a 6-inch piece of tubular foam that allows you to roll or massage the affected areas, flattening and lengthening the muscles and causing the trigger points to release and return to their regular shape. You can start by resting a portion of your body weight on the foam roller and progress to resting all of your body weight on the roller for optimum results.

Now let me warn you, this will be very uncomfortable at first, and you may only be able to do a couple repetitions for each affected area, but if you’re consistent the pain will begin to subside and you will be amazed at the results.

Common areas to roll

The most common areas to use the foam roller on are the side of each leg for IT band relief, the front of the hip and quads, the glutes and hamstrings. I would suggest starting with 1-3 reps or rolls in each area for starters and progressing to 8-12 reps over a period of 3-6 weeks. Eventually you will work most of the tight spots out, and rolling will be painless and mostly for maintenance.

I have personally made the foam roller a regular part of my routine and have been amazed at the results. Injuries that have plagued me in the past, like lower back pain, have become nonexistent. Foam rollers come in 1- and 3-foot lengths but I prefer the 3-foot length because it’s a lot easier to keep yourself from falling off. I do both pre- and post-workout foam rolling 3-4 times a week. If I wake up with lower back pain or other muscular discomfort, I immediately roll the area and I experience instant relief. Foam rolling works best for the lower body because of the size and density of the muscles in that area.

Common areas to roll

The most common areas to use the foam roller on are the side of each leg for IT band relief, the front of the hip and quads, the glutes and hamstrings. I would suggest starting with 1-3 reps or rolls in each area for starters and progress to 8-12 reps over a period of 3-6 weeks. Eventually you will work most of the tight spots out, and rolling will be painless and mostly for maintenance.

I have personally made the foam roller a regular part of my routine and have been amazed at the results. Injuries that have plagued me in the past, like lower back pain, have become nonexistent. Foam rollers come in 1- and 3-foot lengths but I prefer the 3-foot length because it’s a lot easier to keep yourself from falling off. I do both pre- and post-workout foam rolling 3-4 times a week. If I wake up with lower back pain or other muscular discomfort, I immediately roll the area and I experience instant relief. Foam rolling works best for the lower body because of the size and density of the muscles in that area.

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