Fitness rollers have been steadily gaining in popularity among athletes and fitness enthusiasts over the past several years. Users who’ve jumped on the fitness-roller bandwagon tout their many benefits, including relieving muscle pain, releasing tightness, and improving flexibility and athletic performance. Versatile and relatively inexpensive, fitness rollers can be used before, during, or after a workout.
What are fitness rollers and how do they work?
A fitness, or foam, roller is a cylindrical piece of equipment usually made of foam or flexible plastic. They are available in a variety of styles and firmness levels. You lay on the roller and use the weight of your body to put targeted pressure on the desired muscle. Fitness rollers can be used on various parts of the body, including the back, hips, legs, and neck.
There are several theories as to what effect fitness rollers actually have on the body. Advocates often tout them as a form of “self-myofascial release”—in other words, as a form of deep-tissue massage. Some researchers disagree, saying that it generally takes more pressure to reach the fascia (connective tissue that binds the muscles) than can be achieved with fitness rollers. Others theorize that fitness rolling stimulates the central nervous system and/or pressure receptors beneath the skin, causing a reduction in pain sensation and an increase in pain tolerance.
Ways to use fitness rollers
We may not know why fitness rollers work, but we do know that many people find them helpful in reducing pain, easing tight muscles, and improving flexibility. The most obvious use for fitness rollers is to ease the pain of tight muscles before and/or after a workout. First-time users may want to start with a softer roller. Place the roller on the floor and lay on top of it, positioning the muscle you want to work on over the roller. Slowly roll along the length of the muscle from bottom to top, then back down. With each pass of the roller, you can increase the pressure a bit. It may feel tender, but it shouldn’t be painful; if it is, ease up on the pressure. Continue rolling for 60–90 seconds for maximum benefit.
There are many other ways to use fitness rollers in addition to self-myofascial release. Here are some other creative ideas to help you get the most out of this versatile piece of equipment.
- Release trigger points: For extra-tight spots, apply constant, even pressure to one point on the muscle instead of rolling over it.
- Up your workout: Balancing on an unstable surface forces your core muscles to work harder to maintain your balance. Adding fitness rollers to exercises like planks, push-ups, and crunches will take your workout to the next level.
- Stretch farther: Increase your range of motion by propping your foot, leg, or arm on a fitness roller during stretches.
- Prop yourself up: Use a shorter fitness roller as a prop to help hold challenging poses during yoga.
- Massage your feet: After a long day on your feet, massage your arches by gently rolling each foot back and forth over the roller.
Want to give fitness rollers a try?
Intrigued and want to give fitness rollers a try? If you already belong to a gym, chances are they have a variety of rollers you can test out. They may even have fitness roller classes you could try. If you do decide to purchase a fitness roller, you will need to consider:
- Density: how soft or firm the foam is
- Texture: some rollers are smooth while others have bumps or ridges to help you work out muscle knots
- Size: a variety of sizes from small to very large are available
- Price: a quick online search shows that most fitness rollers come in at under $25, with a large selection available for under $10.
Grab one and get rolling!
Note: This blog does not constitute medical advice. Always make sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.