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Foam Rolling - How much should it hurt?

The generally accepted principle of foam rolling is no pain, no gain; however, this is actually not the case. Foam rolling is used as an exercise to reduce tight muscles and/or connective tissue. Applying too much pressure, though, can actually do the exact opposite. Let’s look at why:

Too much compression overstimulates the nervous system which actually causes the muscle to contract as a protective measure against an injury. Think of what your response would be if someone tried to hit you. Assuming retaliation is not in your nature, you would react by guarding yourself. The muscle, too, acts to protect itself against too much force.

Secondly, compression can cause damage to the muscles and tissues on a cellular level. The effect of this is inflammation. The connective tissue, known as fascia, that surrounds our muscles will become inflamed. This inflammation will actually cause the fascia to tighten and become extremely tight in a localized area. So, should you be using a foam roller at all? Yes, in fact they are very successful at helping to reduce muscle and connective tissue tightness. But one must exercise caution in the pressure applied while doing so. Light pressure for a longer period of time will actually yield faster, better results. Think of foam rolling as a marathon, not a sprint! There should be no added pain due to too much pressure. Remember, pain = no gain!

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