A roller is a very simple piece of exercise equipment. It works on the basis of myofascial release, which is a soft tissue therapy focusing on the connective tissues, and makes use of the user’s weight to apply sustained pressure to specific parts of the body. It’s a fairly simple principle to grasp, and you’ll understand the benefit if you’ve had stiffness in muscle groups released by physio or sports massage. The relief can be heavenly!
Rollers are generally available in two sizes – long and short – and vary in terms of firmness. The longer roller allows you to perform a wider variety of core exercises; the shorter roller makes targeting muscle groups that little bit easier and is more portable (mine now comes away with me on holiday or while I’m working away). Newcomers are meant to start with softer rollers and work up to firmer models. I started with the firmest roller due to my weight, and I’m glad I did as I’d be trading up right now.
(Note: Foam rolling is no substitute to seeing a professional therapist, but it can work alongside these therapies. If you are thinking of giving foam rolling a try, PLEASE TALK TO YOUR THERAPIST FIRST.)
Time on the bike or in the hills results in tightness in my quads, hamstrings and, particularly, my gluteus maximus. A series of seemingly gentle exercises releases this tension, which, in turn, releases stiffness in my lower back.
I say these exercises are ‘seemingly gentle’ because, at first, they hurt… really hurt in my case.
In common with massage, it can be uncomfortable working on ‘trigger points’ with the roller. Persevere, though, and the pain recedes and a few mins of work a day keeps muscles supple which improves overall flexibility.
I find the roller particularly useful just after activity, in addition to my daily maintenance routine. If you sit at a desk for work, it’s a great way to loosen tight hip flexors at the end of the day.
Another benefit of these exercises has been overall strength. Many require you to support part of your body weight while rolling and I have felt benefit in my arms, shoulders and abdominals. These associated benefits, I believe, help improve my overall resilience to injury while on the hill or bike.
Greater ‘muscle health’ has made me faster on two wheels, too, judging by my training rides.
There are plenty of resources and videos online that will show how to exercise with a roller. The advice is to take your time and really concentrate on working those problem areas. I hope you get the same relief that I have so far.