One of the biggest current workout trends isn’t actually a workout at all—it’s a technique that is touted to warm up your muscles more effectively, relieve post-workout pain, and assist in building muscle mass. Foam rolling has a big reputation, but is it worth the hype? Is it safe? We’ll take a closer look at what you need to know before you start using a foam roller yourself.

What is it?

Foam rolling is a technique in which you use a foam roller to massage sore muscles before or after a workout. Usually, you will lie on the roller with it positioned under a particular muscle group, and then you will move slowly back and forth to massage the area with the roller.

How does it work?

When you use a foam roller, you are actually massaging the fascia, or the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the muscles, organs, and nerve fibers, and bones. Fascia is solid and not super flexible, which is why it can cause muscles to feel tight or have limited range of motion. Massaging with a foam roller can relieve some tension and improve flexibility, but it also can set off pain receptors in the process. That’s why a hurts-so-good soreness is generally associated with foam rolling.

How should you use it?

Aside from some soreness, foam rolling may sound generally harmless, if not a bit helpful. And generally, it is considered a safe way to warm up or cool down from a workout. However, it can be a risky practice if you aren’t careful to avoid major joints and the lower back, which can sustain damage from foam rolling. You should also keep the pressure limited—only roll in an area for 20-30 seconds at a time with slow, steady motion. If there is extreme pain or sharp soreness, stop immediately. Like you would with any workout, you should also stagger rolling sessions in each muscle group, as the muscle fascia and muscle tissues need time to repair and heal.

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