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Recovery is an essential part of training. Recovery encompasses a whole host of things, including sleep, nutrition and massage. Whether you are a competitive cyclist or enjoy a social ride, it is important to take care of your body to prevent illness and injury spoiling your fun. In my next few blogs I will take you through some ways to aid your recovery at home.
Part 1: Introduction to foam rollers
The foam roller has become a very popular massage tool. If you are a regular cyclist, chances are you probably have one. But do you know how to use it? Here is a quick guide to help you get the most out of your foam roller. (1)
It is best to use your foam roller immediately following your cool down from a training session or a race. This will help maintain your circulation and therefor delivery of oxygen to help your muscles repair themselves. In doing this you will look to replicate the effect that a post-race massage will have. If you don’t have time to do this immediately following your session and want to come back to it later, that is fine, just make sure you warm up a little first. Foam rolling will also help loosen the fascia (connective tissue) that wraps around your muscles. This will provide your muscle with a little more space to relax, helping to relieve any tightness within your muscles and also improving its flexibility.
You should always start with the muscles closest to your torso. By this I mean you should roll your hamstring muscles before your calf muscles. In a similar way to a sports massage, your foam roller will impact the movement of blood and fluid within your body. Even if you only want to focus on your lower leg, you still need to roll through your upper leg first. The best way of describing this is to think of it as ‘clearing a path’ for the removal of waste products.
Using your hamstrings as an example: You should start at your knee and roll all the way up the back of your leg towards your bum… and repeat! Any pressure exerted through your foam roller should always be in the direction of your heart. This is important so as not to damage non-return valves within the vascular and lymphatic system or negatively affect the flow of blood back to your heart. (2)(3)
Start off with a light pressure and gradually work deeper into the muscle. How much pressure you need will vary from person to person and is affected by a number of factors including how hard your training session has been and how your muscles respond to deep tissue work. As a general rule I would say using your foam roller shouldn’t be painful. It will likely be uncomfortable, but if you feel pain, then ease off a little. (4) (5)
As you work deeper into your muscle it is likely you will find some tight spots. Often, these are what are called trigger points, where there is a dysfunction in the contractile filaments of the muscle. If you feel a tight spot, simply pause and hold pressure on that area until you feel it ease off. If you don’t feel a change after 20 seconds, continue rolling up your muscle and come back to it. If you have dimples on your roller, you can use these to help. (6)
Finally, probably the hardest thing about using your foam roller is to relax the muscle that you are working on. You will get a much greater benefit and be able to work deeper into your muscle if you can do this. Get yourself into a comfortable position roll away.
Next time, I will take you through treating your quadriceps, glutes, and everyone’s favorite, the Iliotibial Band (ITB).