The Beginners Guide to Body Rolling
Body rolling is something that has become part of my daily fitness regimen. Before I even begin to warm-up I 'roll out.' I have noticed, particularly as I get older that it takes longer and more warm up time to reach my deepest flexibility. Body rolling helps release some of the tension and decreases that time. Additionally, rolling out in the evening or after activity can decrease recovery time and soreness. The benefits of body rolling are many (increased flexibility, improved blood circulation, fascia release, the breaking down of scar tissue, and more). But don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself! Below are some quick tips, do's and dont's for those new to body rolling.
DO try more than one tool
Certain tools work better for certain areas, so having more than one tool allows you to access more of your muscular structure. For example, a foam roller is great for the larger muscles in the back, shoulders, quads, and glutes, while smaller therapy balls target the calves, IT band, and neck with greater efficiency. My personal favorite for the quads and gluteus medius (your “side butt”) is a stick roller. I use a mini size from the brand “The Stick.”
DO work from the largest/softest tool to the smallest/most dense
When body rolling I begin with my largest tool (usually a foam roller) and work to my smallest tool (usually the dense therapy ball). In between these two I may use a stick roller, medium sized inflatable ball (such as a medium Yamuna ball), or specialty foot rollers. This is not a hard and fast rule, but especially for a beginner allows you to "warm up" to rolling.
Quick tip – most foot rollers I have used double as great calf rollers too! Working from the largest tool to the smallest allows you to more gradually break up the muscle tissue for better and safer results.
DON'T forget about posture
This is a huge factor when it comes to seeing benefits from rolling and remaining injury free. Sometimes when rolling it is easy to indulge in the area you are working on and forget about the rest of the body. This, however, can be counterproductive as well cause unnecessary aches and pains later. I see this mostly with the foam roller or larger inflatable massage balls. It’s common to sway the back when rolling out thighs, or sink into the shoulder while rolling out hips or sides. Instead, simultaneously think of engaging your abs or lifting up and out of your shoulders while also sinking into the area that you are rolling out. This can definitely be challenging at first and may take some time to conquer, but when you do- you'll have the added benefit of stability training mixed in with your myofascial release, which leads to good posture beyond your body rolling session!
DO start gradual & breathe
Start gradual – by engaging the rest of your body you can control how much weight you release into a particular area. Some muscles may even release over a longer period of time and multiple sessions. You should feel pressure but not pain.
In order to obtain the full benefits of rolling, use your breath! When you come across areas of tension, breathe a little deeper and aim to release into that area with each exhale. If you are new to rolling, you might find yourself tending to hold your breath. Be sure to keep checking in and make sure to breathe and relax through your rolling routine.
Every body is different, and some techniques and tools may work better for you. Take the time to find what works for you and which tools access which muscles more efficiently for your body. Also consider what you might need most. I feel the foam roller is a great beginner tool that can access the whole body, and will get you more comfortable with foam rolling. I sed only a roller for about a year. If you are a runner or someone who does a lot of leg work, the stick is a must have (just don't bring it in your carry on when you travel... it apparently looks like a weapon on the scanners 😜). The next tool I added to my routine after the foam roller was actually a tennis ball. This is another great beginner tool as it is less dense than the therapy ball, but can target the same smaller areas.
DON’T feel tingling, stinging, pulling, or numbness
As mentioned above, pressure is okay and often necessary, however sharp pain indicates something is wrong. Also be careful not to put pressure on bones or nerves. If you experience any tingling, stinging, pulling, or numbness, chances are you are no longer on the “meat” of your muscle. Reduce pressure and reposition, and see if you can find the sweet spot again. Additionally, always go light around sensitive and delicate areas (such as along the spine, around the knees, or base of the skull). I always find a very light touch around these areas still proves plenty effective. Another example is the abdomen. There is too much delicate stuff below the surface to use your entire weight on a foam roller, but gently rolling a small therapy ball in circular motions across my abdomen is enough to give those hard working muscles some love too. Most importantly, listen to your body – If something feels bad, don’t do it.
DO consider gravity
Consider where you are rolling. Whenever my back or shoulders are really sore, I start by using my foam roller or therapy ball against the wall. This allows much less weight to be poured into the muscles than when using the tools on the floor. Similarly, using the therapy ball (or tennis ball) in my hand and manually massages the legs or shoulders is much less intense than putting the ball on the floor and laying on it, using my full weight.
DO consider that you are covered in muscles
As mentioned above there are areas in which you can’t use your entire body weight to self-massage, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them. We are covered in muscles, and they all deserve a little attention. Something that always feels good but is often over looked is the top of the feet. You can stand or sit and roll across the tops of your feet with a small therapy ball or tennis ball. Also, sometimes when I have a headache I will even run a tennis ball gently across my forehead and temples. The face in general is another area that gets overlooked. The cheeks and jaw also deserve a little love (just make sure your tool is clean before using on your face).
DON’T knock it until you try it!
Body rolling can take a little time to get comfortable with, but once you begin reaping the benefits, you won't want to stop. Start by just rolling for 5 minutes before or after your workout, and work up from there. When I stick to a consistent body-rolling regimen, I find that I feel much more free and mobile in my fitness and my body in general. I hope this post inspires you to give it a try or perhaps become more consistent with this incredible form of self care!