What does foam rolling actually do?
Think of it as ironing out the wrinkles in your rumpled musculature. Joe Hashey, C.S.C.S., owner of Synergy Athletics, explains: "Foam rolling smooths and lengthens your muscles, and breaks up adhesions and scar tissue." Another benefit is that it helps your muscles relax by activating the sensory receptors connecting your muscle fibers to your tendons. The net effect is better blood circulation, which in turn speeds workout recovery and boosts performance. But don't take our word for it. Grab a foam roller—we like the Grid ($40, tptherapy.com) because it has three different densities, offering a realistic massage. If you hit a sore spot, hold it there for 15 to 30 seconds—you found a tight area that needs special attention, says Hashey. Yes, foam rolling can be painful, but you need only 5 to 10 minutes to reap the benefit. Just as important as how you roll is when you roll: After a workout is best, followed by a static stretch of the muscle, says Hashey. This helps your muscles return to the proper length and recover even faster because it can prevent the buildup of scar tissue.
A. Exercise induces microtears and swelling in muscle fibers, which impinge on nerves and vessels. Over time, this can develop into adhesions and scar tissue.
B. Foam rolling helps smooth out these obstructions and break down adhesions, helping to increase blood-flow within the muscle