Rolling for Fitness

DIY Rollers Ease Pain and Aid Flexibility



More amateur and serious athletes, people wanting to ease stiffness due to sedentary work and seniors are enjoying a new DIY way to massage out the kinks at home that’s becoming recognized for its benefits by experts worldwide.

For the first time, flexibility and mobility rolling ranks in the top 20 of the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends. Made predominantly of foam and hard rubber, the rollers can “massage, relieve muscle tightness and muscle spasms, increase circulation, ease muscular discomfort and assist in the return to normal activity,” according to the organization’s Health & Fitness Journal, which notes a growing market for the devices.

Dr. Walter Thompson, professor of kinesiology and health with Georgia State University, in Atlanta, was the lead author of the survey. He says, “Personal trainers have found that it works for their clients. We’ve also seen an increase in popularity in gyms and fitness clubs.” The trend is partly spawned by their use in Pilates. Thompson adds, “Tech devices, now central to our daily lives, have changed the way we plan and manage our workouts.” Yet, as with other such equipment, users must be educated on how to employ the rollers on their own.

Most rollers are available in smooth or ribbed textures in different sizes and densities. Sets include one for deep tissue rolling, self-myofascial release and trigger point relief, designed to aid muscles related to the back, hips, arms, glutes and hamstrings.

Dr. Spencer H. Baron, president of NeuroSport Elite, in Davie, Florida, was the 2010 National Sports Chiropractor of the Year and served as a chiropractic physician for the Miami Dolphins football team for 19 years. He starts patients out with rollers during office appointments, especially those with sports injuries. “It empowers them to take charge of their fitness,” he says. “Those standing or sitting all day at work may need it even more than athletes do to improve circulation and stimulate the nervous system.”

While rollers can be administered to hamstrings and quadriceps by hand, he attests that the back is the most commonly targeted region, and suggests two corresponding maneuvers: Lie down with a foam roller under the neck at home. Gently roll it across to each shoulder blade, and then center it and roll it down to the buttocks; even to the hamstrings. Next, assume a squatting position against a wall and place a roller between the center of the back and the wall, gently rise up, and then sink down. It’s also possible do this at work in private.

Fitness RollerBaron and his colleagues believe that rollers are beneficial to use on the shoulders and arms of tennis players and baseball pitchers. “I like the metaphor of a chef rolling dough in the kitchen. With a similar motion, you’re kneading muscles and tendons, improving blood flow and circulation to sore areas,” he says.

Jason Karp, Ph.D., the 2011 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Personal Trainer of the Year and creator of his company’s Run-Fit certification program, has seen the popularity of the devices on the rise with runners. “People like gadgets” that can help them, he notes. “Runners get tight from running, and rollers can help alleviate that tightness. I know a lot of runners that swear by them.”

Karp, a California author of six books, including Running for Women and his upcoming The Inner Runner, feels that rollers are especially well-suited for postworkout use. “The rollers are basically a form of self-myofascial release, which helps relax muscles by putting pressure on tight areas to cause the muscle to relax via its reflex to tension,” he explains.

It looks like this universally applicable and simple fitness tool will keep on rolling through this year and beyond.


Randy Kambic, in Estero, Florida, is a freelance editor and writer for Natural Awakenings and other magazines.

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