The humble foam roller should be a staple piece of equipment in every cyclist’s kit. As an osteopath I recommend all the cyclists I treat regularly do foam roller sessions to both improve performance and prevent injury on the bike. In order to get the most out of your foam roller sessions here are a few basic guidelines as well as some demonstrations on foam roller technique to different muscle groups.
This is general advice only so if you suspect that you may have an injury then always consult a health care professional to get a diagnosis.
When to use a foam roller
Most commonly it is used after training or racing to help aid recovery by improving blood flow to muscles as well as removing any toxins that are produced during exercise. When using the roller immediately after or the night after hard training or a race it is important to use a lighter pressure as the muscles are already in a state of stress so we want to assist recovery without causing more muscle damage. Heavier sessions are best left to rest days or after easier training sessions.
The roller can also be used pre workout to help warm up the muscles by improving blood flow to them. In this instance I would also recommend lighter pressure as the aim is to simply promote blood flow to the main muscle groups to be used during the workout.
How long should I do it for and how often
This can vary from athlete to athlete and is dependant on things such as pain tolerance (foam rolling doesn’t tickle), training load and what you are trying to achieve. As a general rule I recommend between 1-3 minutes per muscle group. This will be shorter on hard training days and when using it to warm up and can be longer on rest and easy training days. Once you become more experienced you will be able to judge when a muscle releases.
Like all forms of training, quality is more important than quantity. One of the main advantages of using a foam roller over stretching alone is that you can target specific areas of tension within the muscle. The easiest way to determine which part of the muscle you need to focus on is that it will be more painful.
If your schedule allows, I think foam rolling is something you can do daily as long as you are sensible with duration and pressure used, especially on hard training days.
When not to use it
It is important that if you suspect you may have an injury that you first have it diagnosed by a health professional. Inflamed or damaged muscles, tendons and joints can be further aggravated by using the foam roller on them.
Some foam roller techniques may also aggravate pre-existing injuries due to the position required to perform them. If in any doubt then talk to your physician.
Types of foam rollers
Foam rollers come in different lengths with the two most common being forty centimetres or one metre. I find the forty centimetre option is great for riders who are travelling for races or events as it is easy to fit in the luggage and allows you to address all the main muscle groups.
Over the last few years there have been many different types of foam rollers come onto the market from the traditional blue foam to the up market freezable rollers that ice at the same time. When it comes to choosing what roller you use, a lot of it comes down to personal preference with the main difference being firmness. Each manufacturer will give added benefits to their particular design, which I am certainly not here to dispute. But I have personally used the old blue foam roller and find that it does the job just fine.
Now that we've been through the basic principles of the foam roller, here is how to target different muscle groups using proper technique: