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Fitness and Weight Loss Here’s what happened when I tried foam rolling for a month

Finally, he offered some caveats about the results I could expect: “The data is still in its infancy on what it will do for you,”

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Here’s what happened when I tried foam rolling for a month play

Here’s what happened when I tried foam rolling for a month

(Men's Health)

Find out if it’s worth the time and effort

I’ve been running for four years, and up until a month ago, I’d never used a foam roller. No, I don’t live under a rock. I was just comfortable (admittedly too comfortable) with my post-workout stretching routine and had never gotten around to buying one. But, after running my first ever marathon in early November, where I overheard even more hype about the benefits of foam rolling in the starting corrals, I decided it was time for a new challenge: Rolling out my muscles every day for a month. 

But before diving in headfirst, I consulted a pro to learn exactly how—and how often—I should be doing the deed, as well as the types of results I could expect. Anthony Carroll, a full time physical therapist in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Delaware, set a few guidelines. The most basic one? Don’t overdo it.

“I’ve seen people bruise themselves because they go too far,” he said, suggesting that, as a foam rolling rookie, I should start with about one to two minutes per muscle group. “It’s important to listen to your body and since you’re new to foam rolling, start out slowly and work your way up to longer rollouts.” 

As for extra tight areas: “You can spend an additional minute or two holding the roller over pressure points, “ he advised. “It helps relax and lengthen the muscle tissue. “But that’s a personal preference.” 

His third tip: “In general, harder surfaces are better, but if you’re new, it could be good to start with a softer, non-textured roller.” Maybe I’m a masochist, or maybe I just couldn’t resist the fresh, rubbery smell of the high-end rollers on display at my local running store, but I ignored his advice and bought myself a TriggerPoint Grid X. I paid for this decision later: read on to learn how.

Finally, he offered some caveats about the results I could expect: “The data is still in its infancy on what it will do for you,” he said, “but there are preliminary studies that suggest it can reduce soreness if done daily, can increase your range of motion, and can delay the onset of muscle soreness after exercise, which could help your performance, in that you’re able to push harder and start sooner.”

Less soreness and faster runs? I was sold.  

Week 1: I’m In Some Serious Pain

My first attempt at rolling went horribly.

I let out an involuntary shriek the moment the roller touched my quad, and my roommate nervously asked if I was still alive. It probably didn’t help that I had run a marathon just the day before, or that my muscles were at an all-time tightness. (Although given what I heard about the roller’s ability to reduce soreness, I figured the timing was ideal.)

Nonetheless, Anthony’s warnings against overly aggressive rolling rang in the back of my head, and I called it quits that night after two more (pitifully short) attempts. I continued this routine every other night that week with embarrassingly similar results. I reminded myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I probably shouldn’t expect to become a regular foam roller overnight. 

Week 2: Could I Get Used To This?

After seven days of torture (decreasingly severe—but torture all the same), I finally felt like I’d broken through a wall when, on day eight, I no longer howled on contact with the roller. 

I also started running again, having taken a week off after my marathon. On days that I ran, I rolled in the mornings right after. On off days, I waited until the end of the day. By day ten, I found myself settling into a semi-comfortable routine that involved 60 seconds of slow rolling over each quad and calf. 

I was still too nervous to try rolling my IT band—the ligament that runs down the outside of my thigh from my hip to my shin—typically been one of my tightest muscles, but I took comfort in the fact that my quads and calves were starting to feel looser and less kink-ridden. Progress!

Week 3: I’m Moving Faster

Feeling even more at ease with the roller come day 17, I amped up my routine to 90 seconds per muscle group and introduced my IT band into the mix. When rolling my IT band, I put both my top leg and hand on the ground to reduce some of the pressure, and also protect my hip bone from crushing itself against the roller, a common foam rolling mistake, I learned. The IT rolling almost brought on that same intense pain, but I backed off and just rolled that section for 10-second bursts at a time. 

Overall, the intense soreness that plagued me in week one had dissipated, though it hadn’t disappeared entirely. Feeling energized by my renewed functionality, I tackled a particularly hilly six-mile run in Central Park on day 20. I was thrilled to discover that was nearly a minute faster than usual! I also conquered a post-Thanksgiving hike with nearly no soreness the next day. Did the foam rolling have something to do with these feats? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but for my—and my TriggerPoint Grid X’s sake—I’m going to say: Yes, yes it did.

Week 4: It’s Only Been a Month?

By day 25, I reached for my toes and was shocked to see my palm comfortably curl over my shoe—a level of flexibility that I haven’t enjoyed in who-knows-how-long. I then experienced essentially no tightness in my legs after a long day of lifting heavy boxes (I moved apartments on day 26.)

Day 28 came and I laughed when the notification I set on day two of the challenge —“FINALLY DONE WITH FOAM ROLLING!”—popped up on my iPhone. I turned it off and turned back to my TriggerPoint Grid X. I’m fully aware that while some of my newfound success is likely due to the physiological benefits of foam rolling, a portion of it may just be mental. Either way, foam rolling has improved my running as well as my flexibility and mobility in general, making it a habit I’ll gladly continue. Consider Rome constructed. 

The article I Finally Got Around to It and Tried Foam Rolling for a Month. Here’s What Happened originally appeared on RunnersWorld.com.

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