Safety / Injuries | Training Tips

Boost Your Corrective Exercises with Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique every trainer should know when and how to put it to use. It helps loosen up knots, decreases muscle soreness, and improves muscle tissue recovery—key factors in helping your clients to keep going strong. Dig into more details here and learn how to add it to your next corrective exercise program.

Benefits of Using Foam Rolling in Corrective Exercise

The biggest impact foam rolling has on the body is the self-myofascial release technique. This self-massage helps provide better restoration of connective and soft tissue. 

Breaking Up Knots and Adhesions

It is not only crucial for building muscle, but muscle also tends to develop adhesions. Adhesions within muscles are what cause tissue to compress, stiffen, and tighten. Many refer to these as knots in the body, but really, muscle knots can cause adhesions.

Any type of muscle tear or damage in the body can benefit from foam rolling. When foam rolling, you are working to get rid of adhesions in your muscles and connective tissue. This helps break up muscle knots. This then allows the body to restore and align connective tissue creating a healthier muscle. 

Any type of exercise or physical activity will cause micro-ears in the muscle tissue. Injuries are one of the biggest reasons for scar tissue and adhesion build-up. The many benefits of foam rolling complement corrective exercise.

Enhancing Corrective Exercise

Corrective exercise can be part of any program and even in a distinct way. Trainers often use it in circumstances where a client shows movement dysfunction or has recently experienced an injury. When mobility and flexibility issues are present, corrective exercise should be as well. This can apply for all clients because every person has imbalances within their body not just those with injuries. 

Movement dysfunction will disrupt biomechanics, causing the body to move improperly. Corrective exercise helps fix and prevent these issues in the best way possible. Using foam rolling as part of a corrective exercise program helps assist movement and muscle building from inactivity, injury, or exercise. Due to increased blood flow after a workout and during foam rolling, muscle tissue has a much higher potential to grow stronger with both working together.

While every person is different, some clients may need to rely on foam rolling more than others. And it should still be a part of every program you design. It provides support and rejuvenation to our bodies allowing faster and more efficient results. Foam rolling paired with corrective exercise helps clients overcome movement dysfunction and injuries, allowing them to achieve optimal health and fitness.

Types of Foam Rollers

It is important to know what your client wants to achieve so you can recommend the right type of foam roller. Most are a cylinder shape made of compressed foam, but there are other options available depending on your client’s needs. Different muscle groups need different sizes and shapes.

Size and Density

First, figure out the size of the area that needs massaging to help you pick the right size foam roller. 

Next, consider how much pressure the area needs. Foam roller density can determine the amount of pressure you can apply to an area of the body. The denser and more compact a foam roller is, the more pressure you can apply.

If you are aiming for a smaller area or muscle that has a lot of tension, a great option would be a small, dense, circular-shaped roller. If you are aiming to target a larger area with less pressure, such as the entire back, then you should choose a bigger, soft, cylinder-shaped foam roller. This will help ensure you cover and massage the entire area.

Texture and Trigger Points

In addition to size and density, you also want to consider the surface texture. The texture, which means how smooth or bumpy the roller is, can help you find the trigger points. If you have one with more bumps, you can target trigger points more easily.

Trigger points are specific areas located on tender muscles that need more attention when foam rolling. Finding the more tender areas and holding the applied pressure on that position can help loosen knots up better.

Corrective Exercises with Foam Rolling

When foam rolling the upper body, you can target everything including the back, chest, shoulders, and arms. Any muscle can benefit from foam rolling if done safely and correctly. 

Focusing on the Back

When foam rolling the back, you want to ensure you massage all the different areas. This includes the upper, middle, and lower back:

  • Rhomboids
  • Lats
  • Trapezius muscles
  • Erector spinae muscles
  • Quadratus lumborum 

These muscles make up most of the back and can greatly impact performance when loosened up properly.

Using these self-myofascial release techniques to find trigger points within the back and upper body is crucial. Pairing the techniques with corrective exercises is also important. Pair the following corrective exercises with foam rolling for increased effect: 

  • Thoracic spine rotations
  • Isometric rows
  • Child’s pose stretch

Chest, Arms, and Shoulders

These upper body muscle groups should also be foam rolled according to muscle tightness and stiffness. Effective upper body corrective exercises to pair with other myofascial releases may include: 

  • Wall slides
  • Band pull-aparts
  • External rotation of the shoulder
  • Chest opener stretches

These will target the shoulders and chest while incorporating the arms as well.

Core focused corrective exercise should include exercises like cat camels, planks, and dead bugs. When working to strengthen and repair abdominal muscles through corrective exercise, aim to foam roll the lower back. Over-stimulated abdominal muscles create a more flexed position in the lumbar spine. This produces a lot of tightness in the lower back and erector spinae muscles. Foam rolling this area helps release extra tension in the core. This also prevents any type of pelvic tilt from forming or getting worse.

The same goes for tightness originating in the lower back first. It can start in the lower back and affect the core by creating tightness or weakness. In this case, having your client perform extension type corrective exercise while foam rolling will help. An example of this is foam rolling the same part of the lower back and performing a cobra to stretch the core rather than performing flexion-based exercises.

Lower Body Corrective Exercises with Lower Body Foam Rolling 

This is the most popular combination. Exercises like glute bridges, bird dogs, mini band lateral walks, and a series of lower body stretches paired with foam rolling helps improve mobility and flexibility. Foam rolling the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and iliotibial band assists with this. 

Foam rolling for just a short time each day does not provide adequate flexibility. The longer the foam rolling session the better the results. This leads to less movement dysfunction and more muscle repair. Your client can look forward to a quicker recovery from their session when pairing this with corrective exercise. 

How to Design a Corrective Exercise Program Using Foam Rollers

Knowing how to foam roll is the first step in designing a corrective exercise program with foam rollers. You also need to relay proper technique through demonstration and explanation to your clients. 

Proper technique is the number one factor for clients to get the most out of their routine. When teaching a client how to foam roll remember these four cues: 

  1. Begin foam rolling along the muscle group and aim to find the tender, more painful trigger points on the body. 
  2. Once you find them, hold the applied pressure in the exact spot you feel most for a few extra seconds. 
  3. Then continue foam rolling, but roll across the muscle instead of along the muscle by shifting your weight from side to side on the roller.
  4. After a few seconds of rolling across the muscle, finish with long foam rolls along the muscle just as you started with. 

Repeat this process for as long as intended. Foam roll each area for 15-20 minutes for the best results. Not everyone has this amount of time in the gym so 15-20 minutes total for one foam rolling session will be beneficial to notice progress. 

Pressure Without Pain

Teaching clients how to apply the right amount of pressure can be complex. A good guide to have them follow is that they want to feel something but not so much that it causes pain they cannot breathe through. The pain should be pressure pain that provides a ‘good hurt’ and never a sharp pain they cannot tolerate.

Once your client finds a moderate amount of tolerable pressure, then you can have them begin repetitions, rolling back and forth on the area. The initial goal is to find muscle knots or trigger points and keep pressure in that area for a few extra seconds. This will help break up the tender areas that could be muscle adhesions. 

If a client ever encounters too much pain, they could be applying too much pressure. Each person's pain tolerance is different and one client might need to keep foam rolling the area to get results. As needed, give a client a break from the ‘good hurt pain.’ Have them move the roller over to the surrounding areas while working their way back to the painful area. It is crucial to restore breathing at this point during foam rolling.

Pre- VS Post-Workout

To incorporate self-myofascial release techniques into corrective exercise programs, aim to perform foam rolling before and after a workout. Foam rolling the upper back and legs before a workout will promote a better warmup. Following a workout, there is better blood flow within the muscles and you can have your client spend up to 20 minutes foam rolling more specific problem areas or just a smaller part of a muscle group.

The post-workout foam rolling session improves recovery while the pre-workout foam rolling session promotes a better warm-up. Both are very beneficial no matter a client’s specific goals. With greater amounts of blood flow following a workout, your muscles tend to loosen up faster, dismissing muscle soreness to an extent. Foam rolling around workout time is great, but you can also foam roll any time of the day. 

Stay Focused

All conditions and injuries benefit from foam rolling if prescribed to that person's specific condition. Foam rolling helps with movement dysfunction because of its effect on range of motion and performance. Self-myofascial release techniques create better blood flow allowing muscle tightness and pain to dissipate. To help improve mobility and flexibility when a client has a lower-body injury you should pair lower body foam rolling with lower body corrective routines. 

If a client has recently experienced this injury, it is unsafe to immediately foam roll that area. Familiarize yourself with the injury and phases that an injury undergoes to heal correctly. The phases include the inflammation phase, recovery phase, and repair phase. The inflammation phase usually lasts at least two to three weeks. During this phase, avoid any further aggravation to the area. This includes no foam rolling or exercise that causes unbearable pain.

Assist the recovery phase with foam rolling and repair the injury through corrective exercises. After two to three weeks have passed, the swelling and pain should be significantly less. At this point, you can have your client begin foam rolling at a slow pace with low amounts of pressure on the area.

Gradually apply more pressure as time goes on, allowing the body to recover properly and work well with the corrective exercise routine. Once the client fully recovers, you can keep both foam rolling and corrective exercise in the program to prevent further injury over time. 

Soft tissue massage is a great starting point for recently injured clients, but performing screening can also help determine how to implement foam rolling into corrective exercise. The point in time you implement foam rolling and corrective exercise and the technique of both programs is crucial to creating an effective combination. This is important so the body positively responds to the program.

Are you a personal trainer looking to advance your career in the fitness industry? Specializing in corrective exercise can provide you with a competitive advantage in the field, allowing you to work with clients of many different circumstances. Expand your options now!

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