January 22, 2016

Fitness Friday: Five hacks for foam rolling

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I’ll admit that I was a little late to the game in embracing soft-tissue manual therapy (AKA "foam rolling). Maybe it's just me, but feeling a little sore in between workouts was a welcome reminder that I was working my muscles harder than normal.

But all of that changed last year after I began foam rolling regularly. Now I'm a firm believer that it is key to improving flexibility, relieving soreness, and reducing the risk of injury—either in the gym or on the golf course. Top fitness experts such as Ben Shear, Mark Verstegen, and Mike Boyle have been touting its benefits for years. My resistance to embrace it simply came from the notion that gym goers are looking for ways to reduce time exercising, not add to their already busy workouts.

OK, speech over. In speaking with the experts and testing their beliefs, I've come up with five foam-rolling hacks that will help you adopt it into your workout routine much easier and smarter.

1. Buy an adjustable-density roller. When you first start foam rolling, you won't believe how sensitive certain muscles are to the applied pressure. The first time I hit my quadriceps with one, I nearly jumped to the rafters of my gym. So buying a roller that allows you to adjust the firmness of pressure is key. That way you can start with a soft massage and gradually adjust the firmness when your muscles aren't so sensitive to the pressure. This all-in-one massage kit from Travelroller is pretty handy.

2. Get a massage stick, too. These handy little items will help you hit areas that are too awkward to massage with a foam roller. They are particularly good for your calves. And if your calves are tight, you're putting yourself in harm's way when it comes to knee injuries. The athletic-performance equipment company SKLZ makes a variety of other massagers that hit those hard to reach areas. Check them out.

3. Foam roll first. Seems counterintuitive, but if you're only going to foam roll once a day, it's smarter to do it before you play golf or work out. It's true that foam rolling aids in recovery from the microtears to soft-tissue that occur when you play golf or hit the gym. But what it also does is make your muscles, ligaments and tendons more pliable. And that pliability translates into moving, swinging, etc., more dynamically. You'll be able to turn off the ball better than ever and push your limits when exercising.

4. Focus on the Hs. Most recreational golfers suffer from tight hips and hamstrings—the "Hs." This zone, including the gluteal muscles, are the ones you should focus your rolling sessions on. If you're limited on time or don't feel like doing an entire program, spend five minutes rolling your hips, hamstrings (back of your thighs) and your butt muscles. Waking up these prime movers in the golf swing will take a lot of stress off your lumbar spine (lower back).

5. Be careful how you roll. The oblique muscles (sides of your abdomen) also are a great group to massage in order to improve the range of your golf swing as well as protect the lower back from injury. However, you have to be very careful when rolling on the sides of your torso. The 11th and 12th bones at the bottom of the rib cage are known as the "floating ribs." They are small and delicate and can fracture very easily if too much pressure is applied to them. So limit your foam rolling to the upper half of your torso if you're rolling on your side.


PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau demonstrates a great foam-rolling program for golfers.