We’ll be the first to admit there are lots of things about the gym that confuse us (like does the abductor machine really accomplish anything besides making us feel awkward?).

But there’s one gym tool we’re learning to embrace — and it’s making us better outdoor athletes.

rolling out

Rolling out is like a sports massage you can do in your living room, on vacation and on your deck. Photo: Johnie Gall

“Myofascial release helps break up adhesions that cause mobility restrictions in your body,” begins Ashley Borden, a fitness trainer who has become one of the foremost advocates for our new favorite tool: the foam roller.

Borden earned her name (and ever-growing number of YouTube followers) by working with Hollywood celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. But, before you pass foam rolling off as another celebrity fad, at least consider the benefits.

“Rolling out” is a form of soft-tissue self-massage, also know as myofascial release. Using a foam cylinder, PVC pipe or tennis ball, you can actually stretch out muscles and tendons and help release the fascia (a dense web covering muscles and bones), increasing blood flow to soft tissue and allowing muscles to fire at peak efficiency during exercise.

“Rolling out your lats, triceps and upper back helps tremendously with the mobility of overhead reaching, which is critical in paddling on your stomach while surfing and reaching up for rock climbing,” explains Borden.

As we train, repetitive motions cause muscle tension and tightness. Using the foam roller in conjunction with dynamic stretching can help improve your flexibility and range of movement, leading to faster muscle recovery and decreasing your risk of injury.

In short? Foam rolling will help you feel better after a tough session, and ensure you aren’t stuck on the couch with sore muscles for the rest of the weekend.

The best part? Foam rolling is going to seriously cut down on your massage budget. It’s comparable to a sports or deep-tissue massage, only you get to control the pressure, so there’s less of a risk of getting overly bruised.

Just make sure you work with your own pain threshold, says Borden.

foam rolling

When foam rolling, never roll over a joint! Photo: Johnie Gall

“If you’ve never rolled out before, you will experience some discomfort,” Borden says. “But breaking through tight spots and moving slowly on your roller can help dissipate the discomfort.”

Move slowly enough that you can feel the “knots” in your body, and spend some extra time rolling out those areas.

If you just aren’t buying the buzz around foam rolling, Borden suggests doing your own comparison study: “Start on one side of your body … with your leg, hit your quad, hamstring, IT band, glute and calf. Stand up and walk around; feel the immediate difference in your rolled-out leg versus [the other leg],” she says.

The blood flow and “light” feeling of that leg is a good indicator of how your entire body responds to a full rolling session.

From there, it’s a constant progression: When your body gets too used to the softer foam roller, you can upgrade to a PVC pipe, a rumble roller or other rollers on the market.

“My clients roll out before every session,” says Borden, explaining that if she and her client work on a specific body part, they’ll focus rolling out that area post-workout as well.

If you worked on your legs or used your arms more during a climb, take some time to use your foam roller after to reduce tightness and swelling of the muscles.

The bonus? You’ll finally look like you know what you’re doing at the gym.

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