Foam Rolling 101: What to Know Before Trying This Popular Workout Accessory

If fitness is a part of your lifestyle, whether you hit the gym every day or get a yoga package on Groupon from time to time, you may have seen foam rollers lying around the studio. If you've never tried one, now's the time to do so, especially because the trend is gaining momentum and all different types of workouts are incorporating them into their routines.

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So what are they exactly? Cylindrical foam blocks that come in different colors and styles, foam rollers are self-massage tools that are used to mimic the massage of a therapist on your body to perform self-myofascial release. Celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza says they are used to loosen tight muscles and trigger point areas (knots that form in muscles), speed up muscle recovery after a tough workout, prevent injury, improve circulation and reduce pain. "They are becoming very popular now because it's all about training smarter, not harder," she adds. "Foam rollers are a portable massage that's inexpensive—you can treat pain anywhere you go!"

You may think these fitness accessories are self-explanatory and easy to use, but if used incorrectly, you can risk causing more harm than good. "The best way to use a foam roller is to roll 'cross-fiber' to break up adhesions and scar tissue," explains Braganza. "The shorter the stroke, the deeper you get and the more effective your foam-rolling session will be. You should use it before a workout as a quick activation warm-up and then do the majority of your foam rolling after your workout to recover, preferably making it a before-bedtime massage session for longer duration recovery." 

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To avoid hurting yourself, follow Braganza's tips: "Roll muscles and not bones. Do not roll an injury; use it to prevent injuries. Roll as hard/long as you are comfortable with—if it is very painful, go slow and for a short time. Never roll to extreme discomfort, and if you are unsure, seek a therapist's advice. Avoid rolling directly through the middle of the spine on your lower back and invest in an ergonomic foam roller that fits behind your neck to avoid injury."

A new foam roller that's catching buzz is Rove ($89), which features a design we've never seen before that's great for travel—it starts flat and rolls into a cylinder shape and then hinges in place. Braganza's favorite is the Travel Roller ($40). "I love it because it's portable and effective for the deepest massage, plus you can store acupressure massage balls inside it," she says. 

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