How do you feel after a workout session? Good? Exhausted? Sore? Invigorated? Round up a bunch of workout junkies after their workout sessions and their answers will vary depending mainly on the intensity and duration of their workouts. However, regardless of time and intensity, every exercise regimen is bound to leave people with sore and aching muscles. The post-workout regimen is as important as the main work out itself and it is essential that you do not overlook any part of the activity. On that note, two of the most important post workout activity everyone should definitely engage in at is stretching and massage foam rolling.
How do foam rollers work?
While everyone may know about stretching, massage foam rollers are a less common post exercise tool. Foam roller exercises, technically referred to as self-myofascial release (SMR), is a method of massage used to reduce neuromuscular tension and exhaustion, improve flexibility and decrease post-exercise soreness. They are also highly recommended for a pre-workout warm-ups as well and from fitness trainers to athletes, SMR with foam rollers is gradually becoming a widely accepted and mainstream fitness practice.
SMR in the simplest sense is a self-massage, only in this case, it is enabled by a foam roller. Foam rolling applies pressure to specific points – trigger points on the body to help in the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function. A trigger point, is a point of pain referral in the body. In essence, when pressure is applied at that point, pain radiates through the connecting tissues and its felt in another area. The essence of foam rolling is to release the tension in the fascia, a fibrous layer of connective tissue covering the muscles. After strenuous workout, the fibres of the fascia become knotted in a cross linked pattern binding the muscles and inhibiting normal motion. This limits blood circulation in the area and can induce pain if the muscle is in use. For an example, this is why an individual may experience severe cramps in the thigh muscle after numerous sets of squats.
When you roll the foam roller down the length on a muscle, let’s say the calf – which extends from the knee to the ankle, the foam rolling targets the “knots”, breaks up the patterns to relieve the sore muscles and reduce muscle tightness in that area. While foam rolling exercises aren’t necessarily painful, you may feel a bit of discomfort, nevertheless, it is often nothing unbearable and the feeling afterwards is more than worth it. The end goal of every post work out activity, whether stretching or foam rolling exercises is to get the muscles back to normal functioning, as if the entire workout session never happened.
Benefits of using massage foam rollers
While a lot of people may be uninterested in the workings of a foam roller, a lot of gym goers, workout junkies and even the average person would definitely be interested in knowing how a foam roller could be of benefit to them. Beyond loosening up fascial restrictions, there are a lot more to the importance of foam rollers and below are some of them;
- Improves circulation
The pressure from rolling loosens and lengthens the knotted muscles and as the muscle stretches back to its original size, blood flow in the involved area is increased. As blood is responsible for transporting oxygen and vital nutrients to the organs and tissues in the body, improved circulation therefore means better flow of nutrients to the formerly tight and restricted muscles. As nutrients flow in, waste products are equally removed as well from the spent muscle. In all, a more efficient circulatory system is to the benefit of not just your muscles but to the entire body system as well.
- Reduces pain and soreness
Whether you work out regularly or you are more of the once in a while type of person, you have definitely experienced muscle soreness after intense workout at some point. The muscles become stiff and sore and in some cases, painful as well. The pressure from foam rolling can substantially reduce the soreness by removing the knots in the fascial tissues.
- Improves range of motion
The use of massage foam rollers as a post workout tool stretches and lubricates the muscles to improve their range of motion. In simple terms, foam rolling increases flexibility. Muscles usually work together to initiate motion, now if a segment of tissue in the muscle becomes tight, other muscles may be unable to efficiently carry out the motion, creating an imbalance in the muscular system. Foam rolling is capable of reducing the tightness to ensure a proper balance of muscles. This way, the muscles are more effective, can operate at optimum functionality and flexibility is enhanced.
- Decreases risk of injury
The best form of treatment is prevention and every time you use a foam roller after a work out session, you reduce the likelihood of injury. If muscles remain in painful knots or are persistently contracted, your range of motion is bound to be altered and you may end up with muscle injuries. The massage foam roller eases out the knots and lengthens the muscles to allow for a better range of motion. More flexibility means better coordination and more effective body movements.
- Decreases recovery time
It may be easier to avoid an injury than to treat one, however, if there is an already existing muscle injury, foam rolling is one of the effective means of muscle recovery. As foam rollers loosen the muscles, blood circulation is improved bringing in nutrients to the exhausted muscles. The nutrients help the muscles rebuild faster, the recovery time between workouts will be significantly shortened and you can be back in the gym in no time.
Importance of stretching after a workout
Stretching is one of the most overlooked aspects of workouts when it should infact be given the same importance as your standard exercises. For a well balanced workout routine, experts highly recommend stretching before and after a workout session. Stretching before a session plays a major role in injury prevention, however the big deal is in stretching after a workout. The benefits of stretching post workout extend beyond the physiological to psychological. Here are some of the greatest benefits of stretching those sore muscles after a strenuous and intense session.
- Increases flexibility
Stretching increases and enhances the flexibility of different muscle groups. It lowers muscular tension by restoring constricted and contracted muscles to their normal form. When the body has been restored to its original and more comfortable state, it becomes more flexible – bending, squatting and other flexibility related exercises eventually becomes easier. It is important to keep your muscles supple and flexible especially as the body ages, and a regular stretching routine will go a long way in alleviating muscle stiffness.
- Eliminates lactic acid
From the moment you initiate a workout, the system begins to build up lactic acid in the body which causes muscle fatigue and soreness. Stretching relaxes the muscles, enhances better circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the spent muscles and in the process, lactic acid is eliminated from the area making the muscles less tired and sore.
- Improves blood circulation
Workouts help to increase the rate of oxygen consumption and blood flow to the heart. This causes the heart to beat at a very fast rate and after exercising, it is necessary to bring it down to a normal pace. Stretching cools down the body, returns the heart rate to normal and by doing so, blood circulation to the muscle is improved. As the body returns to equilibrium, the pressure on the heart is reduced initiating a gradual recovery and repair in the muscles.
- Promotes muscular coordination
Regular stretching encourages functional mobility of muscle groups allowing them to synchronize properly and work together.. When the muscles are better coordinated, your predisposition to muscle injuries is reduced to a large extent and the body can recover faster and be ready for the next workout session.
- Better mind-body connection
Stretching may be beneficial for the muscles but there are psychological benefits of stretching. When you stretch, the body cools down to a steady and consistent energy level. The brain in this state releases endorphins more commonly known as the feel-good/happy hormones. Endorphins are brain chemicals released to help the body deal with physical pain; they relieve stress, harmonize the mind and relax your mood. Your brain recognises the effort you’ve put in into being fit and healthy and it rewards you by making you feel happy and energized. Awesome right?
Stretching and massage foam rolling are two important activities that support your body post-workout. In summary, they relieve sore muscles, increase blood circulation, enhance flexibility and generally improve your performance both on a physiological and psychological level. Take out time to stretch and use massage foam rollers after every workout session and your body will thank you for it.