What’s the Deal with Foam Rolling?

woman foam rolling her leg

No longer reserved just for elite athletes or the CrossFit-obsessed, foam rolling can do a world of good even for us mere mortals. To find out how a cylindrical piece of foam can help to release tension and tightness in muscles after they’ve been overworked (whether that’s from the gym or your morning commute), we tapped Vinh Pham, co-founder and physical therapist at Myodetox.

How does foam rolling work? So, here’s the rub: We don’t know exactly how foam rolling works. One theory is that self-myofascial release (a fancy way of saying self-massage) uses continuous pressure to break up adhesions or trigger points in the fascia (connective tissue that binds the muscle). Other researchers believe that foam rolling stimulates the central nervous system in a way that makes your brain send signals to “loosen up” the muscles. But whatever the mechanism, the result is the same—muscles feel less tight. “And when you are able to release tension and relax your muscles, you get better blood flow and greater mobility, which means easier movement, decreased discomfort when sitting, better posture and better workouts,” Pham tells us.

Sold. So, how do I use a foam roller? You want to go as slowly as possible, making sure that each part of the muscle gets equal pressure (never use a foam roller on ligaments or joints). Spend about 20 seconds on each part of the body, then move on and repeat the cycle. But remember—it shouldn’t hurt in order to work. See specific foam roller exercises here.

And how often do I need to do it to feel the benefits? You can use your foam roller daily and there’s no need to wait until after a killer boot camp class, either. “You can use rollers to release tight parts or trigger points like under your armpits or your glutes if you’ve had a long day at the office,” says Pham. See ya later, achy shoulders.

Which foam roller should I get? Foam rollers come in a variety sizes, but a smaller one (18 or 24 inches) can target most parts of the body. If you want to get fancy, Pham rates the Hyperice Vyper, “which has vibration technology that adds an extra oomph to your recovery,” but you can totally keep it basic with this best-seller from Amazon for $15. Rock and roll.

*This* Is Why You’re So Sore After Working Out