It is sad but true that in exercise, as in most things in life, there is no silver bullet. In order to look and feel the way you want you need to take a holistic approach and it is somewhat of a journey of self discovery to figure out what works best for you. One philosophy that seems to be universal is that optimal health (physical and mental) is all about a balance between flexibility and strength. When you build muscle, you need to stretch it out. When you create structure in your life (plant based diet, 8 hrs of sleep every night) you need to be able to allow yourself to bend the rules every once in a while to blow off some steam or shake things up. When you are in a relationship you need to know how to hold your ground and how to truly give way to another's point of view. And in some ideal (fantasy?) world you eventually learn when to go for it and when to roll with it.
Until recently fitness for me was primarily about the burn and, outside of the yoga studio, balance and flexibility were secondary if not non existent. This was not for lack of example, my parents are serious about their stretching, to the point where it has become normal for my dad to do a quick "standing pigeon" anywhere conceivable (restaurant, golf course, museum- if there is a hip height, stable surface it is fair game). It wasn't until after coming back from hip surgery that I really began to understand how the process of building muscle without developing flexibility can be a painful and ineffective. So I did as my physical therapist prescribed and bought a foam roller for home. I am someone who enjoys a deep tissue massage, I am talking teeth gritting deep, so me and the foam roller were fast friends. For those of you who shy away from that type of sensation- take my advice with a grain of salt.
What is the big idea: In the last few years, foam rolling has moved from physical therapist clinics into peoples homes and celebrity fitness routines. Foam rolling is the act of rolling your body/muscles over a foam cylinder to relieve deep muscle tension and smooth out your facia. Facia is the thin membrane around your muscles that effects their shape and flexibility. By rolling out or facia you will see benefits that include: reduction in cellulite, better circulation, reduced muscle tension, with an overall effect of being more limber. Some even claim that it can mold your muscle into a more appealing shape, but in my humble opinion it is probably the combo of the foam rolling and the 100 squats you did that made you want to use the foam roller that is doing that.
First things first, pick your poison:
White: This is the least dense and, dare I say, wimpiest of your options. I would recommend this option only if you are very sore from your workouts and need something that is a bit kinder on your beat up muscles. If you are someone who feels they are very inflexible, foam rolling will help quickly and you will easily outgrow this intro roller so if you are buying one for at home use, at least go for option #2. The only other reason to use a white foam roller is if you are going to to an extended workout using the foam roller.
Blue/green: These are a great place to start, good for medium intensity stretching and massage and can be used for an exercise routine as well. This is what I have at home although I am dangerously close to upgrading.
Black: This is the most intense option that is still made of 100% foam. It is no joke- especially when you get into those IT bands but it hurts soo good.
Wrapped PVC pipe: This is where you begin to get into the wtf zone. These rollers are literally PVC pipe (hard solid plastic used in construction) wrapped in a thin layer of tire-like textured yoga mat (see below). Some are made with an even harder rubber which ups the ante further. If you are starting to feel comfortable on the black foam roller or you have some knots that just wont quit, go for it. I used one yesterday and it was not fun but I slept like a baby with no muscle tension.
PVC: What ^ is not enough for you? OK, rip the foam off like the beast that you are and go straight PVC.
There are a number of standard exercises that are great on the foam roller and highlight its unique ability to help us limber up that second layer of muscles or smaller muscle groups you do not typically stretch. The important thing to remember is that you can basically do no wrong- if you find a knot roll back and forth until it is gone. Here are a few I like to do at home:
Hips: Similar to doing pigeon in yoga class this hip opener/glute massage is awesome for people with tight hips (which is basically everyone). Sit on the foam roller and place your right ankle over your left knee. Using your arms behind you as balance lean into your right side and roll back and forth across the back/side of your hip. Repeat on left side- try and do at least 1 minute per side.
IT Bands: Get in side plank position with the foam roller under your right hip using your left leg as balance in front of you. Slowly walk your hands forward and backward rolling your IT band over the roller, tightness tends to increase as you get closer to the knee. Pro Tip: When the foam roller is under your hip rock forward and backward to give yourself a little massage on the side of your hip and a nice break from the torture that is IT band stretching.
Adductor: One of my favorites but probably one of the most embarrassing to do in public is the adductor roll. It is also pretty difficult to describe so check out this video and the below image as a guide.
Quads: In forearm plank position place the roller just above your knees. Keeping your abs strong and spine neutral a you walk your forearms back and roll the foam up your quads. If you hit a knot, pause and bend and flex the leg where you find the knot to help work it out.