Many of you know I've been dealing with some pesky orthopedic issues that are keeping me from weight-bearing exercise. After 8+ months of this garbage, I'm getting a little nutso . . . watching my fitness level and body tone decline and just feeling bored and out-of-sorts about the whole deal. So lately, I've been getting aggressive about seeking out new ways to regain my strength and conditioning.
One Saturday, I was complaining to my Pilates instructor that my right hip was sore and bound-up (as it has been for months). She whipped out a foam roller and showed me some self-myofascial release techniques (really a fancy phrase for self-massage) that have given me more mobility and comfort in my hip and IT band than I've had in years. Seriously, I am not exaggerating. I bought one from her at the end of my session, brought it home, and began to explore workouts using the roller. I can't believe that in 20 years of being an avid exerciser and PT-regular, I've never used one of these. I'm a convert.
You can use a foam roller in myriad ways - to stretch and massage sore spots, but also to do some challenging balance and strength moves. A foam roller costs about $25 and it's easy to store - a perfect addition to your home-exercise studio (or living room, as is the case in our house!). Some days, I do moves on my roller while I watch t.v. at night, others I'll bike at the gym, swing home, and do another 1/2 hour of stretching and strengthening on the roller.
I have a 36" full round roller (they also come in 1/2 round, if you need more stability to start with). Most gyms have them, so if you want to try one out for "free," check one out there. If you want your own, you can order a foam roller from Amazon, and read up on all the variations. Power Systems has them too, for less money, and I've ordered from them before with good results. Or, you can call around to sporting-goods places and/or medical supply outlets in your area to see if they carry these.
Here are just a few of the great resources I've found on the 'net for foam roller workouts:
This guide from the About.com Sports Medicine area gives good background on what myofascial release is, how it works, and includes tips for self-release techniques for common hot spots. Includes pictures.
This detailed guide shows you, with photos, how to get at some of your rough spots, and then goes through some good balance and core strengthening exercises. Some of their exercises require 2 rollers for extra stabilization work.
This total body routine from Paige Waehner at About.com incorporates pushups, extensions, stretching and more. It also includes pictures and recommendations for beginners, intermediate and advanced exercisers.
This set of 6 Pilates-based moves provide a nice combination of balance, strength and stretch, and also includes pictures.
I would never say that the roller replaces the good work of a manual therapist (our PT is absolutely amazing, if you need a recommendation, email me), but it's a great way to work out kinks on your own, in between sessions, and/or to keep up the good work you're doing elsewhere. Give one a try!