You might have come across a foam roller already – used it before a workout as a warmup to decrease muscle density, after a workout to soothe sore muscles and help them recover from strenuous exercise, or simply to give yourself a deep tissue massage. But why should you do Pilates with a foam roller?
Well, that’s because foam rollers are far more than an affordable deep tissue massage tool that helps the muscles relax by applying pressure to tight spots as you roll your body over it. When used in Pilates exercises, it helps increase muscular strength, flexibility and physical coordination by providing your body with a boosted challenge.Although it’s a good thing to have your routine Pilates workout that works well for you and that you can do on a regular basis, your body needs change in order to progress. Adding more challenges to your workout will help to take your body to the next level of fitness, and a foam roller is the ideal piece of Pilates equipment to do that.
What are the benefits of a foam roller?
Apart from loosening up and relaxing muscles, foam rollers can help improve balance and stability when used in Pilates exercises. As you need to find your center of gravity and try to keep it under control when lying on the roller, your balance is challenged. To remain balanced, it’s necessary for your body to be properly aligned and to maintain its posture which, in turn, challenges and strengthens the core muscles.
But this does not only result in improved balance and core stability. It also tones your muscles and increases your stamina as you have to hold a position for the whole duration of an exercise. At the same time, it improves your flexibility as targeted muscle groups are stretched and loosened during the exercises. Having more flexible muscles means a greater range of movement for your whole body.
An additional benefit of foam rollers is their ability to improve your blood circulation when rolling on them as blood is pushed through your body. As a side effect, it helps stretch connective tissue and can also help prevent and improve cellulite. So, there are two main ways of using a foam roller: you can either roll certain parts of your body on it for stress release and relaxation, or you can lie, sit or stand on it for an additional challenge in exercises.
Does a foam roller help with lower back pain?
Many people who start Pilates do so to tackle or prevent lower back pain. So, the question is, are foam rollers in Pilates any good to achieve back pain relief or to strengthen the back to avoid pain? The answer is: If used in the correct way, they are an excellent auxiliary tool to address back pain. This is why.
Lower back pain is often caused by stiff and tight muscles, frequently combined with incorrect alignment of the spine. When doing Pilates exercises incorporating a foam roller, the body is forced to align properly to keep balance, thus correcting its ill alignment. In addition, the core muscles are challenged and stretched as they have to help maintain the balanced posture throughout the exercise, resulting in strengthened core muscles. Improved alignment and stronger core muscles mean less back pain.
However, when using a foam roller in a rolling exercise, you need to be careful as incorrect use can be harmful to your back. Especially when suffering from lower back pain should you avoid using the foam roller on your lower back as the spinal muscles could contract thus causing more damage than good. It’s much more beneficial to focus on your hip flexors and glutes as tightness in these areas is a common contributor to lower back pain.
What to avoid when using a foam roller
There are certain things you need to be aware of when rolling on a foam roller. As a general rule, you should not spend more than 15-30 seconds on areas that are sore or tender even if you feel inclined to do so, as you might cause bruising or even nerve or tissue damage. Also, roll slowly and with control to give your muscles enough time to adapt to the applied pressure.
I addition, avoid rolling over joints and on your lower back as hyper-extension of unsupported joints and the lumbar spine can cause inflammation and injury. Likewise, repeated rolling over bony prominences can result in inflammation, especially, if bones are mistaken for adhesions. You should not experience any pain during foam roller exercises and should stop immediately if in pain.
When struggling with certain health conditions, such as problems with proprioperception or inner ear balance, exercises on a foam roller may not be the best choice for you as you may not feel stable enough on a moving piece of equipment. Also, you should avoid any exercises on the roller that involve twisting moves, if you are suffering from osteoporosis. As with any health issues, make sure you consult your doctor or physiotherapist before starting any type of exercise.
Which foam roller is best for me?
You might think a foam roller is a foam roller. However, there is quite a range of different foam rollers available nowadays, most of them made of high-quality PE or high-density EVA foam. They come as half rollers, round rollers, in long, medium or short lengths, or with smooth or ridged surface. So, which one should you choose?
If you are a beginner and just starting off using a foam roller in your Pilates workout, it’s best to go for a half roller, such as the OPTP PRO Soft Half Foam Roller, to train your balance. It will be much easier for you to perform exercises on a half roller than on a full round roller.
However, once your balance has improved sufficiently, you may want to switch to a round foam roller like the OPTP PRO Soft Foam Roller to train your stability and alignment.
The ideal length of the roller depends on what you intend to use it for. If you plan to use the roller for balance and stability exercises, it would be a good idea to pick a long roller as you will need to lie on it for certain exercises. If you mainly want to roll on it to target particular parts of your body to stretch muscles and release tension, the short roller version would be recommendable. Most round rollers are available in full length (90 cm) and short length (45 cm), so you can easily pick the length that’s suitable for your needs.
Must-have for balance training and muscle stress relief
Although quite simple, a foam roller is a highly effective Pilates accessory that can intensify your Pilates routine and take you to the next level of fitness. Particularly, if you wish to focus on and improve your balance and stability, it is a piece of equipment you should definitely include in your workout.
As it is very versatile, you can also use it to work tight muscles by applying some mild to moderate pressure to those tender areas, such as hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and hip rotators, practically giving these areas a massage. However, you need to make sure you do this correctly to avoid injury and maximize effectiveness of the rolling exercise.
The result will be loosened, revived and stretched muscles, a strengthened core, increased balance, stability and flexibility, improved blood circulation and an overall toned body. I wouldn’t want to miss out on this.