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The foam roller has moved from the sidelines of your fitness studio to center stage in classes across the country. But is it destined to be this year’s forgotten fad (RIP, ThighMaster) or a valuable tool that’s going to help your workout in unexpected ways? Here are three things you need to know about foam rolling. 

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First of all, it’s not for wimps

Here’s the type-A mind-set regarding workouts: “I lose buckets of sweat in cycling classes or spend hours trail running, so why would I waste time in a so-called ‘active recovery’ class?” (Active recovery is the term for the less-intense days in a fitness training regimen.) Well, cool your jets, cowgirl, and listen up. Studies show that the benefits include greater flexibility, less soreness and increased blood flow. And users report it breaking up cellulite. And, word: During a recent class at Club Pilates with the misleadingly benign-sounding name “Restore,” when the instructor had us climb onto our roller to apply weight to the lower thigh/IT band area, we recalled the pain of childbirth.

There’s a class near you

We first heard of foam rolling classes at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, where the Well & Being Spa introduced a stretch-n-roll vibrating roller class led by fitness guru Abdelhak Chegri. Chegri explains that the practice was introduced to the general public after performance coaches who work with professional athletes reported great results in using the tool to relieve the buildup of lactic acid in muscles after a workout. Class styles vary depending on the instructor: In Chegri’s classes, students use a battery-powered vibrating roller. And at Club Pilates, foam rollers are supplemented with moves on the reformer table and even hurts-so-good tennis-ball-size foot sole massages. L.A.’s StretchLab is expanding its one-on-one stretch sessions by testing new morning group classes to start the day with increased blood flow for energy and optimal positive attitude.

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Not All Foam Rollers Are Created Equal

While classes provide rollers to students, it’s nice to know what you’re up against, so to speak, before you hit the mat. Most popular is the smooth-sided 18-inch roller you might recognize from your yoga studio. Then there’s the textured kind used at Club Pilates, which has wave-like ridges designed to dig into muscle trigger points. And there’s the battery-powered vibrating model. After you try a few different styles of classes, you might want to buy one of your own for a little post-workout, pre-bath chill time at home.

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