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The DOs and DON'Ts of Foam Rolling

author image The LIVESTRONG.COM Team
The LIVESTRONG.COM editorial team works hard to help you live stronger, healthier and happier. We are a team of editors working hard to bring you informative and engaging healthy lifestyle content.

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The DOs and DON'Ts of Foam Rolling
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Foam rolling has become increasingly popular for improving mobility, preventing injury, boosting performance and helping you recover after exercising. But before you dive in, there are a few things you need to know to reap the most benefit without hurting yourself. Foam rolling (a form of self-myofascial release) is a stretching technique for treating muscle stiffness and pain. It improves the gliding of the body's structures, including skin, fat and muscle fascia and affects your nervous system as well. Whether you use a foam roller, massage balls or any other product to manage your aches and pains, here's everything you need to know about self-myofascial release (SMR).

1. DON'T: Have a "No Pain, No Gain" Mentality
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1 DON'T: Have a "No Pain, No Gain" Mentality

If your foam rolling is so painful you can't breathe and your entire body clinches up, you're missing the point. And it's also how you trigger your body's "fight or flight" response, which is the opposite of what you're trying to do. Research shows that aggressive deep-tissue massage is not what you need when you're stressed. You want to hit the brakes, not the gas pedal. Instead, find the sweet spot between pleasure and pain that's productive yet tolerable. Relax into the release, take slow and deep breaths and visualize the restricted tissue releasing.

Related: The 5 Worst Pieces of Fitness Advice

2. DO: Foam Roll Slowly
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2 DO: Foam Roll Slowly

Some people roll their bodies like they're rolling out pizza dough, causing them to miss out on a lot of sensory information. It's not about rolling and squishing tissues to break up adhesions, which research shows is impossible. Instead, move slowly and consciously. Count 10 breaths at each location, compress and lengthen your target area and make small movements into the direction of restriction.

Related: 3 Foam-Rolling Mistakes You Might Be Making

3. DON'T: Beat Up the Same Spots Repeatedly
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3 DON'T: Beat Up the Same Spots Repeatedly

If you keep releasing the right piriformis muscle in your hip, but the tightness keeps coming back, it might be time to spend some time elsewhere. The muscle is most likely working overtime, so ask yourself why that one muscle is working so hard. The cause could be issues somewhere else, such as an unstable ankle or a restricted shoulder on the other side of your body. Instead, target new places you haven't tried yet. Find a neighboring muscle that is inhibited and activate it by performing stabilization drills. Better yet, have a clinician assess your movement and educate you as to where you should be focusing.

4. DON'T: Attribute Benefits Solely to Stretched Muscles
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4 DON'T: Attribute Benefits Solely to Stretched Muscles

The reduction in pain and perceived ease of movement after foam rolling is often attributed to stretched or released structures, but the reality is that pain can't be solely attributed to what happens in the muscle or fascia alone. Also, you can't selectively target fascia or muscle exclusively. When you compress and roll your body, all the other cells -- including muscle, nerve, skin and fat -- are involved. And don't forget that there are many other important structures at play that send messages back and forth to the brain via the spinal cord. The role that your neurological system plays is more powerful than any mechanical changes that occur where pressure has been applied.

Related: How to Ease Muscle Soreness With A Foam Roller

5. DO: Educate Yourself
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5 DO: Educate Yourself

Start thinking in terms of working on function and movement, not structure. The human body is an ecosystem in fine balance, as opposed to a car with broken parts in need of repair. Make changes to the driver (your brain and nervous system), not the car (your muscles and fascia). Foam rolling's effects and benefits aren't possible without the external assistance of a tool, but your body's ability to change from the inside out should be given all of the credit.

6. DO: Move and Stretch Afterward
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6 DO: Move and Stretch Afterward

The benefits of self-myofascial release don't last very long unless you follow up with meaningful movement that will allow the changes to stick. The purpose of pain is to train your body to engage in protective behaviors. If your nervous system fears bending over to touch your toes, you'll play it safe and apply the brakes to your range of motion. So after foam rolling, perform a few reps of pain-free movement. This will turn down your body's involuntary "alarm system." For example, if the back of your neck is stiff, roll it, and then perform 10 slow tucks of your chin to your chest and imagine the tissues lengthening and loosening.

Related: 9 Moves You Can Do Every Day for Better Joint Mobility

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Do you know how to foam roll properly? Do you do any other form of self-myofascial release? Do you feel like it helps your performance and movement? What kind of stretches or exercises do you perform to increase or maintain your mobility? Share your stories, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!

About the Author: Kevin Hendry
Photo Credit: Facebook: kevin.hendry.18

About the Author: Kevin Hendry

Based in Vancouver, Canada, Kevin Hendry is the director of education for Rad Roller as well as an author, educator, kinesiologist and strength and conditioning coach. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in osteopathy from the Canadian School of Osteopathy while working in the trenches helping people move and perform better. Kevin has a decade of experience coaching NCAA Division 1 athletes, CFL football players, Canadian National Team athletes and BC Hockey League players.

Related: Find Out More About Rad Roller

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