Foam rolling is a way to implement what is called myofascial release. The human body contains what is called fascia. Fascia is basically a webbing that holds all of our bones and muscles in place. Through repetition, physical activity, and injury this webbing develops knots, adhesions, and scar tissue. When you don't do anything to get rid of these things, tension, stiffness, and pain comes along and your movement and performance is restricted.
Myofasical release basically allows our tissue to relax as we restore it to its optimal resting length and get rid of the knots that have built up. Our bodies have what are called golgi tendon organs. The GTO is a proprioceptor located between the muscle and tendon. Its job is to relax muscle when it senses too much tension, in order to prevent injury. When we perform myofascial release, we trick the GTO into relaxing our muscle tissue. One of the best and most convenient ways to do this is foam rolling.
Now that you know some of the science behind this awesome stuff, allow me to tell you when to do it.
I have a majority of my clients foam roll before their dynamic warmups pre workout. This gets everything feeling and moving better before their workout. I also recommend doing some rolling at lease a few times a week outside of the gym. You may need more or less depending on your current tissue quality. Personally, I do some soft tissue work almost daily because it helps me recover faster from my workouts and keeps my feeling fresh.
Rolling can be done on pretty much any part of the body including the hips, shoulders, and back. A la crosse ball or tennis ball can be used to get into more specific or deeper areas. You can also take a rolling pin and roll certain areas like the calves and hamstrings.
I will get into the how in the next post.