Have you found yourself agonising over how to work out the knots in your muscles after a long day spent hunched over a workstation? Using a foam roller is the quickest, most affordable way to give yourself a deep tissue massage.
Also called Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), foam rolling is one of the most effective ways of correcting bad posture. The underlying principle is similar to deep tissue massage, which relaxes the deep muscles and fascia—the connective tissue encasing muscles that provide stability to the muscles. A cylindrical piece of equipment made of EVA foam (a type of polymer), the function of a foam roller is to release the knots that form in the muscles due to physical activity or prolonged sitting, and also help in muscle relaxation. Foam rolling also boosts blood circulation and enhances flexibility and mobility of the body.
Bad posture and foam rollers
Our sedentary lifestyle is responsible for several diseases like cardiovascular ailments, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions – this includes bad posture. Prolonged sitting causes certain muscles in the posterior part of the body to lengthen and weaken, while the muscles in the anterior part of the body tend to tighten. This results in sore muscles, spinal curvature, subluxations, and blood vessel and nerve constrictions.
Bad posture is corrected via a two-pronged method—strength training to build the weaker muscles, and foam rolling or deep tissue massage to loosen up those muscles that have tightened. As my colleague, HealthifyMe fitness coach Varun Nagar explains, “Foam rolling is generally used to relax the muscles after a workout, or to correct bad posture as a result of prolonged sitting. Sometimes, mere stretches are not enough to help the body relax. That’s when we use foam rolling to bring the muscles to their normal state by loosening the knots and opening up blood circulation.”
Choosing a foam roller
Foam rollers can be purchased from large sports shops and are also easily available on e-commerce portals. Since foam rollers come in different sizes and densities, choosing the right one is crucial.
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Available in two sizes—short and long, foam rollers should be used based on your fitness levels. The longer variety is recommended for beginners, whereas the short one is recommended for individuals who are ahead in their fitness game. Coming in a range of densities and differentiated through a colour coding mechanism, white being the lightest, blue denoting medium density, and black indicating high density; opt for one that seems appropriate to you. My personal recommendation is the blue foam roller, as it is ideal for both male and female adults. The black ones are generally used by athletes and fitness pros.
Exercises for bad posture using a foam roller
As mentioned above, bad posture leads to lengthening and weakening of certain muscles and the tightening of others. The muscles that are generally affected due to bad posture include the hip flexor (hip muscles), hamstring, glutes (buttock muscles), calf muscles, pectoral muscles, biceps, and the anterior deltoid muscles. These muscles can be brought back to the normal state through foam rolling. Here are four basic foam rolling exercises to help you correct your posture:
Exercise 1: Hamstrings (Back of Thigh)
- Place your hamstrings on the foam roller with your hips unsupported.
- Keep feet crossed to increase leverage.
- Roll the foam roller from the knee towards the hip.
- If you find a tender point characterized by pain and tightening, stop the foam roller and allow it to rest on the tender point until the pain decreases by 75%.
Exercise 2: Glutes/Piriformis (Buttocks)
- Sit on the foam roller and cross one foot on the opposite knee as shown in the picture. Hold your raised knee with the opposite hand and place one hand behind you to support yourself.
- Roll the foam roller on the posterior hip area.
- Increase the stretch by pulling the knee towards your opposite shoulder.
- If you locate a tender point, stop rolling and allow the roller to rest on that point until pain decreases by 75%.
Exercise 3: Quadriceps (Front of Thigh)
- Lie on the ground face down and lift yourself up so that your upper body is propped up by your arms while your quadriceps are placed on the foam roll as shown in the picture.
- Brace your abdomen muscles and tighten your glutes to prevent low back compensations.
- Roll the foam roller from the pelvic bone to the knee, focusing on the lateral thigh.
- If you find a tender point, stop rolling and rest the roller on the area until pain decreases by 75%.
Exercise 4: Erector Spinae (Low Back Spinal Muscles)
Note: If you have any spinal injury, please check with the doctor or a certified health professional before doing this movement.
- Lie down on your back placing the roller just above the hips.
- Suck in your stomach to stabilize the spine.
- Roll the roller slightly to one side so that you are on the muscle that runs parallel to the spine and not the spine itself, and hold that position.
- Gradually, roll the foam roller down the side of the spine towards the pelvis, looking out for an area of increased tension.
- Once you find a tense area, hold the foam roller in this area for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the muscle has relaxed about 50% (avoid rolling over the trigger point area).
- Once released from this position, roll to another spot and hold.
- Never roll the foam roller too fast; be slow and gentle to prevent injuries.
- Never hold a foam roller to a tender point for more than a minute.
- Roll the foam roller over the adjoining areas before targeting a tender point to prepare those areas to absorb the tension.
- Never use a foam roller on the joints; limit its use to parts of the body that have muscle.