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Foam Rolling For Mobility and Flexibility As We Age


Unlike Bob Hope, the comedian and avid golfer who lived to be 100, I am not able to have  a massage every single day of my life.  However, I have learned that foam rolling, basically self massage,  is an easier and less expensive alternative.   It helps accomplish some of the same things as massage – kneading the tissues and loosening things up. When I talked with Adam Lee, a Nashville based fitness trainer, he  emphasized the importance of foam rolling to keep our muscles pliable and soft and our bodies flexible as we get older.

Every muscle in our body is encased in something called fascia.  Think of this as our muscles being the sausage, and the fascia being the casing.  As we age, our muscles, and particularly the fascia that surrounds our muscles, become harder and denser.  This can cause us to get stiff and lose our flexibility.   Increasing blood flow to muscles, improving flexibility and mobility, and assisting with muscle recovery are all reasons to roll.   Foam rolling is great for breaking down adhesion – painful, rigid tissue.

One of Adam’s clients, a young medical student,  wasn’t convinced of the significance of foam rolling or massage.  Her opinion changed, however, after an anatomy lab assignment.   While studying the muscle of an elderly person, she described the dense, hard fascia as “material resembling plywood!”

Adam’s 5 Foam Roller Targets – 10 passes for each area

Glutes – We all do a great deal  of sitting,  and tight glute muscles can lead to hip and back pain.  To massage your glute muscles, sit on the roller, as shown.  Bring the foot on the floor in toward you until you feel a stretch.  Now roll into your butt cheek for 10 passes.   I tend to be tight in my hips, and I definitely feel the sweet spot on this one!  Adam advised me to not be in a hurry with the rolling and to be certain to apply enough pressure.

Rolling the Glutes

Quads – This is an easy massage to do, but be careful to avoid rolling over varicose veins.  Place the roller under your hips, as shown in the photo.  Roll up and down on one leg and then the other.  Adam says to also roll inward and outward.  “If you come to a tender area,” he coaches, “this is where you need to park and spend your attention.”

Rolling the Quads

Inner Thighs   Prepare to feel like a walrus!  This roll seems awkward and difficult and one I’d rather skip.    Bring knee up to waist height, as shown, and roll from the groin toward the knee.  Try to keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor.  Adam likened this move to a “dog on a fire hydrant,” which is a fairly accurate description.

Rolling the Inner Thighs

Back – Adam pointed out that thoracic  mobility is essential, “so we can twist and turn and not overwork the shoulder.”  I could do this roll all day – it feels wonderfully relaxing!  Place the  roller behind your back, as shown, just below the shoulder blades. Support your  head and pull elbows in, roll through to your mid-back.  Do not crunch up and do not roll down to your lower back.

Rolling the Spine

Lats– This roll is good for all the sitting and hunching we do.  Set up, as shown, with the roller perpendicular to your body.  Start right in the armpit and, rolling back slightly, roll through, just about to depth of shoulder blades and then back to the shoulder.  This is one I obviously need to do – I am tight and feel somewhat walrusy again.

Rolling the Lats

The foam roller is something we can use everyday.  I like to pull mine out while watching a tv show.  Pay attention to the parts of your body that need a little more massage or time  from the roller.    One side of your body may be easier to roll.  If that’s the case, work  on the other, tighter, side a little longer.   “Just as in any fitness routine,”  Adam emphasized, “we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

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