C’mon, admit it. Regardless of your Olympian slalom technique or your NHL-quality hockey moves, winter’s tough on your body.
There are the usual hazards: dry, itchy skin. Chapped lips. Sinusitis.
Muscle pain also gets worse. Muscles expand under warm, moist conditions and contract when the atmosphere is cold and dry. That flexing can be painful. And it can magnify the discomfort of a workout.
If you’re not into winter outdoor sports, you can probably also blame the ravages of winter for aching joints and muscles stiff from lack of movement.
So, meet your new best friend: the physio foam roller.
If you’re a daytime TV devotee, you’ve probably seen these advertised, being used by incredibly fit men and women who make them look effortless.
Iou’ve seen them being used or misused by grunting, sweaty people contorting themselves into unnatural and painful-looking positions.
If you’ve been trapped in an office all season, you may be less familiar with them.
Physio Foam Roller Varieties
The physio foam roller is a foam cylinder about three feet long. It’s used most often for muscle massage, yoga and Pilates training and physical therapy.
The physio foam roller comes in seven basic varieties:
- Standard density. Medium firm, hard enough for a gentle massage, with some cushion.
- Soft density. Designed for those wanting greater comfort with less effective deep massage.
- Firm density. Offers deeper, more intense massage.
- Textured. For still more intensity.
- Shorter length. These are compact, portable, suitable for travel and often used by runners and cyclists.
- Narrower diameter. These put you closer to the floor and increase stability. They’re frequently used in therapy and for older users.
- Shaped. Irregularly shaped and often used in yoga and Pilates practice to improve balance and core strength.
For routine messages, most people will probably use one of the first four types.
If you’re new to the technique, or uneasy because of the moans you’ve heard around the gym, you’ll probably want to start with the soft or medium firm density.
Why It Works
The roller works by providing self-myofascial release, stimulating the fascia that surrounds muscle tissue and improving blood flow.
It’s proven to significantly enhance joint range of motion. Used in a warm-up, it can help reduce injury.
In fact, it may actually be more effective than stretching as part of your warm-up routine.
Used after exercise, it can help decrease recovery times.
Plus, it can feel good.
All you need to get started is a carpeted space or an exercise mat, plus your foam roller.
Before You Start
A few words of general guidance:
You can use a physio foam roller on any muscle in any part of the body except the lower back, where it must not be used. You should avoid rolling over joints.
If your first experience is painful, try completing the exercise on a more forgiving, more flexible surface like a bed.
To use the physio foam roller to relieve pain, reduce stiffness and tone muscles, start with three workouts per week, rolling each muscle group for one or two minutes.
For most exercises, you’ll start by lying on top of the roller, using your body weight to apply moderate pressure on the muscles you’re targeting.
As you work out, try not to tighten your muscles unnecessarily – exactly the condition you’re trying to remedy.
Move slowly back and forth until you find a knot or sore spot. Stop, hold the position for a beat or two or until you feel the muscle relax, then continue until you find another knot. Repeat three to five times.
Get the idea? Great. Now try out these techniques.
For your IT band
This is the band of fascia that runs down the outside of your thighs.
Lay on your right side with your right leg resting on the foam roller between your hip and knee.
Slowly roll your leg over the roller between hip and knee. Repeat on the outer side of your left leg.
For your hamstrings
Start by extending your right leg with the roller positioned under your thigh.
Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor, hands behind you for support.
Use your body weight to roll out your hamstrings from knee to butt, starting with the outer area, then tilting to do the inner.
Then switch legs.
For your calves
Place the roller under your left calf. With your hand behind you for support, roll from just below your knee to your ankle.
As before, stop when you hit a sore spot, then hold and release.
Repeat for the inner and outer parts of your calf, then switch legs.
For your thighs
Lie facedown with your thighs on top of the roller, wrists aligned with your shoulders as if you were at the top of a pushup.
Tighten your abs and lift. Roll back and forth from knees to hips. When you hit a sore spot, pause, then release and repeat.
For your feet
With the foam roller under the arch of your right foot, lean forward slightly and roll your foot back and forth. Repeat for the left foot.
For more pressure, find something to hold onto for balance and stand with both feet on the roller while you roll slightly back and forth.
For your core
Lie face up with the foam roller positioned lengthwise, supporting the full length of your spine.
Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, elbows out.
Lift your head and shoulders off the roller and lift your right foot slowly off the floor, much as you would doing a conventional crunch.
Put your foot down and repeat for the left foot. Alternate and repeat.
For your glutes
Sit on the foam roller, hands behind you for support.
Cross your right leg over your left knee and lean toward the right.
Slowly roll over one side, top to bottom. Then switch sides
For your upper back and for back pain
Lie face-up on the roller, which should be positioned across your upper back but below your shoulder blades.
Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor, hands behind your head.
Tighten your abs and press down with your feet to lift your hips.
Then roll up and down from upper to mid-back until you feel your muscles relax.
For your pecs
Position the physio foam roller lengthwise under your back, supporting your entire spine from head to hips.
Balance by extending your arms, legs bent and feet flat.
Slowly roll your full body toward one arm and hold the roll briefly. Then repeat toward the other arm.
Be careful not to twist your body.
For the back of your neck
Lie on your back with the foam roller under your neck.
With your head up, lift your hips until all your weight is on your neck muscles.
Roll just enough to read the sore spot and hold very briefly.
Finally, while you’re helping your body resist the ravages of winter, don’t forget about your mind. Here are some tips that’ll help you stay sane, calm and (relatively) stress-free inside, regardless of what’s going on outside.