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Cleaning Out your Self-Care Closet: Rollers, what to chuck or keep?

Above: RollFlex (by Armaid) forearm roller leaves forearms feeling smooth and supple cutting down overuse injuries.

We got it, you have like SIX different foam rollers. And fancy ones that aren't exactly foam. But are you using them effectively? Here are 4 Pointers for what to use and what to put aside.

Who knows where they all are but you're sure you have one of each... A hard one, a soft one, one with those roller blade wheels on it, one with bumps that possibly vibrates?! There are ALL kinds of self-care tools on the market these days, but which one works the best for YOU?! Gather them up and let's see what you actually need and what is redundant.

No two tools work the same way, but truthfully, most of your standard large foam rollers do. The difference is softness (which REALLLY matters) and size (which also REALLY matters when working into smaller regions. Big foam rollers just DON'T cut it for hamstrings, calves, and regions smaller in diameter than your roller.

Cut the excessive junk in your self-care closet and lets get down to what you need and what you don't. Here's how.

Hide the Torture Devices. For Now

Rollers only work if you can relax into them. With this said, if you are crying and tensing against laying on them, you have the wrong roller. Roll to a pain level below a 6.

Crying in Pain is NOT healing.

DON'T go and throw out that old soft beaten up roller, you know, the one dented from using it for too many years- This is the perfect tool to hold on to and pull back out when you have really fresh new injury. The super hard rollers are for those who roll every day, and their muscles are used to it. They have worked down through the layers and each is soft, supple (and NOT sensitive). If your legs feel like a rock, and they hurt like hell to roll, you need to modify before the real change happens. Lighten the load by leaning on a wall instead of the floor if you don't have a soft roller, or try putting a towel or a pillow over it to soften the ride.

Duplicates aren't useful.

Unless you have a specific need for two rollers that are nearly identical, give one to a friend. Check them for width and softness and if they are identical, regardless of how cool they look, one goes. The exception is if one has bumps or vibrates. Here is a quick lowdown on what they are for:

Bumpy Rollers- Perfect for ACTIVATING your muscles before use. Roll with 10 reps on the desired region and then go out and use your body!! This is NOT a roller designed for digging deeper into your tissues, but it can be used as such. Instead, this bumpy roller is for turning on your brain-muscle connections to help you recruit a bigger faster contraction, or to connect the muscle to turn on in the first place, such as in after an injury.

Vibrating Rollers- Just like a bumpy roller, this tool is designed for getting the muscle to relax (Remember, a tight muscle is a weak muscle!). You can use this roller for after a performance/exercise session or to untangle and soften a tight region. For some reason (ok, we know the reason but it's too complicated for this post) your body can't help but relax into vibration. So use it for long duration softening where you hold and relax onto a tight or painful region and don't forget a nice glass of water afterwards!

Rounded Rollers- These rollers are designed to help you get into exact fibers to custom target specific focal work into tissues that otherwise are hard to get to.

Using an analogy, think of the muscle fibers in your thigh as a full bag of spaghetti noodles. If you forget to stir them, they will clump together with some soft and fluid, and others hard and adhered together. With a foam roller, we work to soften the fibers that are a harder tone (not chasing pain but tightness or tone) and we can sit and relax on these muscle bundles, which are part of the whole but are acting like their very own muscle. Pushing at certain angles, and specifically targeting abnormally tight bundles of fibers (fascicles) we can untangle unhappy knees, hips and regional pain that can be transferred (or projected) to nearby regions, which is what a triggerpoint is.

Go through and look for any duplicates and choose to keep your tools because they function for a reason. One may be a travel roller (and you can stuff socks into it) such as the Triggerpoint Therapies rollers, some which fold down flat.

Check for length, just because one is short and one is long doesn't mean you need them both. I often cut my rollers in half (the really long ones that are spine length) if I'm using them on my legs and I give the second one to a friend OR use it as a back rest in my not-so-favorite office chair.

Keep Rollers that are different sizes, for different regions.

Not all rollers need to be speedy, but they need to be effective.

My favorite travel roller is... a can of coconut water! its hard, size effective and specific to small regions while sitting in the car (or at my favorite climbing crag).

This tool is size appropriate for the upper arm (same size as the limb) and hard enough that I can use it to dig deep while seated into my hamstring, say, on the long ride to Moab.

Perfectly priced at $1.99, you can even recycle it when you decide its not useful anymore.

The perfect size for your calf (seated, propped up on a coffee table) or into your back paraspinal musculature as it is really hard and quite small for the region, you can dig deep (perhaps while you're in the car as a passenger).

What about The Stick that has Roll-y Bits?!

A roller tool doesn't have to be something you sit on, but also can be something you roll onto yourself. The stick, pictured left, is a perfect tool for warming up your legs before a tennis match or working into that calf after a fatiguing run or hike. The trick with this tool is that it doesn't work deep unless the muscles along the surface are soft and loose. For example, the calf has THREE different layers of muscle that need to be respected. Push just hard enough to feel a 'good pain', working lightly at first to loosen the muscle and as it relaxes, you can work a little deeper. Keep the muscle RELAXED during the rolling, not contracted and work to elongate the muscle during rubbing, for example. work the calf in a position with the toe pointed, or the calf unloaded for best results. 30 seconds to a minute should do it before exercise. If sore/achy, be gentle and don't work deeper than your body allows (its tension will tell you where the starting point is).

But the final answer is found in your answer to this question... How much do you use it?! Some of us like colorful rollers, which remind us to find and use the roller. Some of us like pretty rollers, that let our mind work as we roll around, searching out tight tsore or stiff spots. And some of us never use our rollers, so lets chuck them and get a vibration tool instead. A very cheap vibration tool that we love, believe it or not, is the Harbor Freight 6 inch Palm Polisher.


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