Roll out tight spots
As athletes (or aspiring athletes), we spend some serious moola on equipment ranging from bikes to fancy helmets to GPS workout trackers. But a foam roller? We're talking 20 bucks(ish). Not too much to ask for something that will help prevent injuries and crank up your performance.
One person you don't need to lecture about this is Justin Price, a personal trainer and creator of The BioMechanics Method, a system of exercises for chronic pain. He has several tools that he uses on clients, including athletes, but by far the most efficient at stretching muscles is the foam roller. "The foam roller's large surface area, round shape and spongy texture are ideal for targeting large muscle groups and dispersing the pressure to the entire area," Price said. "If you only have 10 minutes, spend that time rolling around on the foam roller before a workout."
The most important benefit is straight-up injury prevention. "When you try to move a part of your body that's tight, the motion will come from another, more mobile area, such as a joint," Price said. "The foam roller helps loosen up restrictions in your muscles to prevent injury-causing compensations."
It will also up your game. When you exercise -- especially if you strength-train -- you create micro tears in your muscles. As your body repairs itself, you become stronger. But along the way, these tears also create small bundles of scar tissue that make your muscles tight. Regularly foam rolling helps break down those bundles so your muscles can stretch farther.
Think of your muscles as a bungee cord: The more your muscles can stretch, the more potential energy they can store, and the more power they'll have when you put them into action. In tennis, for instance, a backswing stretches all of the muscles across your chest, forearm and torso. The more those muscles can stretch, the more Serena-like your swing will be when you let it rip.
Here are the four foam rolling exercises that Price recommends every athlete do before a workout:
Stretch your: Quads
Place the foam roller perpendicular to one leg and lie over it (your belly should be pointed toward the floor). The pressure should be on the thigh. Find a sore spot, and hold your body weight on it for several seconds to help the tissues release. Continue rolling the roller to different sore spots on the upper leg.
Stretch your: Iliotibial Band (IT Band)
Lie with the outside of one leg on top of the foam roller. (The roller should be perpendicular to the leg.) Stack your hips and rest the bottom forearm on the floor. Place the top leg in front of the body, and rest the foot on the floor to help you balance. Roll from hip to knee without going below the knee.
Stretch your: Gluteal complex
Sit on a foam roller and lean your body to one side to place the weight on the glute muscles on that side. Pull your knee to your chest on the side you are sitting and roll back and forth to stretch the muscles of that area.
Stretch your: Upper back and shoulders
Lie down with your back on the foam roller (the roller should be perpendicular to your torso). Place your hands behind your head, as if you are doing a sit-up. Bend your knees, tuck your hips under and lift your pelvis so it's hovering just above the floor (this will allow you to roll more easily.) Roll up and down the spine.