To this point in the season, I’ve managed to keep myself pretty much injury free. By absolutely no means do I feel that this is an accident. Pro-active body maintenance plays a pivotal role in lowering my chance of injury.

In a previous article I mentioned the importance of warming up, stretching, recovery, massage and Active Release Therapy (A.R.T.) as methods to combat injury, but there is another element that I neglected to mention (or wasn’t aware of at the time). It combines the benefits of stretching, massage and active release in to one magical device of both torture and relief.

It is the foam roller. (insert dramatic music here…)

Bearing in mind that nothing can really replace what a trained professional brings to the table, the foam roller acts as a very close second and is a fantastic way to maintain and extend the benefits of a great massage or active release therapist.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you – using a foam roller (especially on tight areas) hurts like a *$%&#^@, but just like a really deep massage, it’s a good pain that pays dividends after the fact ;-)

The foam roller is like a pool noodle, but a little denser and is used to perform ‘self myofascial release techniques‘ (SMRT). Effectively it stretches the muscles and fascia to help increase blood-flow and break up/release adhesions and scarred muscle tissue. The roller acts as a form of accupressure on trigger points, knots and sensitive areas in the muscle.

Knee pain was a chronic battle for me throughout my early cycling career and was directly affected by a combination of training load and intensity. The higher either of these variables got, the more pain I battled. Introducing the foam roller into my routine has not only almost eliminated my knee pain, but has also helped significantly with other sore spots and tight areas – namely my hips and glutes.

I won’t pretend to know what exercises you should be doing, but the marvelous intertubes offer many resources for those compelled to learn more. I would still probably recommend hooking up with a good A.R.T. specialist and letting them guide and jump start your recovery, but for those keen on fixin’ themselves up here are two great resources that offer both fantastic information, and informative videos (a quick Google search will offer hundreds more):

— Cycling Physio – Dave Holmes

In my mind Dave Holmes does an outstanding job of explaining in detail how to not only properly conduct foam rolling exercises, but also goes into great detail as to the source of the muscle imbalances that tend to create these problems in the first place. Some of the videos are a little long, but if you’re interested in the physiology behind these things (I am!) they’re really interesting and I find they help me perform the exercises better, and help me to stay in tune with my body.

With Dave being an avid cyclist and having an office in Calgary, I’m definitely going to schedule an appointment next time things start acting up!

Though it’s a little older now, this article by Michael Boyle does an good job of explaining precisely what foam rolling is, how it came about and offers some good exercises.

The videos are a little less than informative, but at least they ‘show’ you a number of different exercises with descriptions underneath.

Another tool I’ve found helpful are myo-release-balls – To be honest I usually just use a tennis ball, but the smaller surface area really lets you get into hard to target areas.

The foam roller is probably my most important weapon against injury… With the amount that I ride, I probably don’t stretch nearly as much as I should, and often can’t make the time for regular massage or A.R.T. treatments. I find the foam roller helps me do a descent job with general stretching and an excellent job at stretching problem areas and areas resistant / difficult / impossible to stretch (like the IT band).

For around the $30 mark you should just go out and buy one, try a few exercises and thank me later. Nuff said.