Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, should be an important component to every athlete’s training routine and can be extremely beneficial as it prevents injury, increases circulation to muscles, increases joint mobility, and because it feels so good after you are done.  Be warned though, it DOES NOT usually feel good during.

Imagine the scales of justice for a moment, on one side of the scale you have training and on the other side you have foam rolling, massage, stretching, resting, etc.  If you do too much of one area, your scale will become unbalanced which will lead to injury or poor performances athletically.  So, if you are one of those athletes who just trains themselves into the same hole every year and the same old injuries keep creeping up, learn from your previous mistakes and start doing some foam rolling!

What is Fascia?

Fascia can be described as a casing surrounding each muscle that helps to give the muscle greater structure and separates individual muscles and organs.  Fascia was described to me in school as a “sausage casing”, but it actually makes total sense and is a great way to think of it.  Fascia is extremely fibrous and dense and can become bunched up in certain areas forming a trigger point.  These trigger points are the areas that can be very painful when foam rolling, but need to be released to enable the muscle to function properly.  Trigger points are caused by muscles being overused, traumatic events, or general training.  Since cyclists use their glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves when they pedal their bike, you can bet there will be many trigger points in these muscles!

The Rules:

  1. Find an area where you have some room to breathe, won’t be in the way, and are comfortable moving around in.
  2. Use a yoga mat or other forgiving surface underneath your body.
  3. Pick a foam roller density that gives you enough pressure, but doesn’t cause your eyes to water from the pain.  Usually the darker the roller the more dense it is.
  4. Start from the top and work your way down.  So, upper back -> lower back -> hips, etc.
  5. Spend a few minutes rolling each individual muscle group and always start with less time initially.  Once you have some practice rolling, you can spend more time on the muscles that are more of a problem for you and less time on the muscles that aren’t as tight for greater efficiency.
  6. When you find those pesky trigger points, work each one individually for 20-30 seconds and move on.  You can either hold direct pressure, or perform quick back and forth and/or rocking over them to release them.
  7. Smile at how good you feel and how loose those muscles are afterwards!

Thoracic/Cervical Spine Mobility

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

Piriformis/Glutes

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

Hamstrings

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

Quadriceps

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

Iliotibial Band

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

Calves

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Starting Position
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Ending Position

 

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About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

10 comments

  1. Just wondering why you say start at the top and work you way down. Other resources I’ve read direct you to start at the bottom in order to push the toxins to the circulatory system to get filtered. Just curious.

    1. Hi Nathaniel,

      I start at the top and work my way down for convenience. As long as you are increasing the circulation to the muscles you will be helping flush out the toxins in them. However, I will definitely recommend my athletes that have an inflammatory process going on to start at their ankles/calves and work up from there.

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  2. I’m having trouble discerning if your IT band should be foam rolled. Some say that since that is not muscle it should not be rolled. It only makes it worse, not better if you have tightness there. Yet you are not the only one that supports IT band rolling. I know that rolling mine hurts like the devil but than truly it never changes much.

    1. Hi Phillip,

      I am a proponent of ITB foam rolling as I have seen it help my athletes, patients, and myself numerous times. The ITB is a dense fibrous connective tissue with a poor blood supply. Inherently, tissues with poor blood supply heal very slowly. Foam rolling the ITB will increase the circulation to it, which will help with healing, as well as increase its elasticity, which will allow you to perform your sport/activity with less pain. However, the ITB is usually just one of the components of ITB syndrome, and I recommend my athletes/patients with this inflammatory process to foam roll, stretch their quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and piriformis muscles, and most importantly strengthen their hip abductors/core. I hope that helps, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  3. Where do I get one of these? I’m in Hawaii and I haven’t seen them in stores.
    My trigger points are my shoulders, neck and back.
    Which roller would you recommend?

    1. Hi Wallyn,

      Aloha! If you have not seen them in stores, I would suggest ordering off of Amazon. For the shoulders and neck, look up “Theracane”. That will be a lot more beneficial for your upper body.

      As far as the back and lower body, the choice in roller is really up to you. The density of them is usually dictated by their color with the darker the color meaning the denser the foam. I don’t get too caught up with all the different brand names that have different patterns or other “best thing yet” rollers. Just stick with a plain old foam tube!

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  4. I love foam rolling! I use the foam roller with handles! The Atlas Foam Roller has saved my back from a lot of discomfort and poor posture. I do it everyday!

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