Using a Foam Mat: Warm Up, Loosen Muscles, Improve Your Workout

 Learn the benefits of using the foam roller and how to do each exercise in this quick video from Dr. Karlfeldt, ND, PhD.

With me I have the Fitness Director over at Axiom Fitness, Mike Hildebrandt. Something when people work out, their muscles get tight and sore, and fill with lactic acid.  And then there are certain tools they can benefit from.

Mike Hildebrandt, BS, CPT.: There are. And pretty much at all gyms now, you’re going to find one of these. And it can be called a foam roller. They come in various densities, various colors: some are blue, some are black. But they all do pretty much do the same thing.

And the benefit to using a foam roller, like you mentioned: muscles get tight, muscles get over-active.  And this is, to an extent, kind of a self-massage technique, that allows you to tell some of those muscles to relax or turn off just a little bit.

And the challenge that a lot of people have is they come into the gym, even before they start exercising, with some muscles that are so tight because of what they do. Whether it’s that’s their hips because they are sitting all day or their calves because it’s a female that wears heels are the time. And that can hinder some of their exercises if they don’t address that right away.

Dr. K:  Yeah because … it’s tight, and to kind of release that, and get circulation through that area.

MH: It can really improve their range of motion, and just mobility in general, when exercising. So, this is a great tool. And there’s a couple of muscle groups that get tight on just about everybody. So, I want to just demonstrate how to use this and how to use it properly.

We’ll start down here. And one of the muscle groups that get really tight is the calves. And especially on females because they tend to wear shoes that are elevated in the heel, so their calves really never get to stretch out.

So one of the best ways to do this, is we start just below the knee. So, if you’re new to foam rolling, pick your foam roller, start just below the knee. 

One common mistake is having the ankle really tighten up; they want to flex that foot. It causes the calf to flex and then they’re not able to fully relax it, and get the benefit out of using the foam roller. So make sure the ankle is relaxed. I tell my clients just to twist a little bit. You’re going to want to lean back, and just slowly roll backwards.

Now if you find any tender points in here, that’s what we’re looking for is tender points. You want to stop and allow the foam roller just to dig into that muscle a little bit on the tender points, for about 30 seconds.

Some people might find benefit from crossing over, or even lifting themselves up off the ground. As long as you can keep that muscle relaxed, so it’s not fighting against you, you’re still getting great benefit out of it.

So if you’re a little more advanced, you may want to elevate yourself off the ground, cross one foot over the other. That’s a great way to do the calves; remember it’s 30 seconds on each tender point, to get the most out of that.

Another tight muscle is what we call the IT-band. And this one runs along the side of the leg. So for this one, you want to start just below the hip. I like bringing the foot in front, to allow you to take a little pressure off. This one can get really tender.

Another mistake that a lot of people make, is they roll really fast along here. And that causes that muscle to tense up even more. So, let the muscle relax, use only the tension you need to be able to keep that relaxed. That’s the key.

And again, roll down towards the knee, taking 30 seconds on each tender point, letting that dig into the muscle a little bit. It will help it relax.

We recommend doing this before exercise, when you first start out. So you can help to release some of those tight muscle groups. But really, you could use this anytime. And sometimes when I’m just at home, watching t.v., I’ll get the foam roller out to help get those relaxed.

Dr. K: Well thank you very much Mike!

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