Want your work colleagues to think you’re a serious athlete who knows a thing or two about self-myofascial-release? Take a foam roller into work with you.
Want your work colleagues to think you’re a sex case? Take a Rumble Roller.
Now, many of you will be familiar with the concept of foam rollers, but I’ll just explain a bit about them for the uninitiated*. A foam roller is, in its most basic form, a cylinder of dense foam approximately 30-60cm in length and 15-20cm in diameter. You put the roller on the floor and then position yourself on top of it until you find a tender spot (stop sniggering at the back!) at which point you just hold that position for 30 seconds or so. The most common technique is similar to a side plank, with the roller beneath the IT band, but there are countless others depending on the body part you want to work on (I mean it – if you don’t stop laughing I’ll be forced to ask you to leave). The act of foam rollering (real word) causes knotted muscles to relax, or to use the words of Wikipedia, “utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility”. I only know two of those words, so I’ll just have to trust them on that. What I do know is that it works. Although the whole process sounds a bit “scented candles and whalesong” it’s actually a really effective workout, and leaves you feeling loose, energized and above all, ready to run.
When using a foam roller for the first time, the temptation is to roll up and down it as if trying to iron out the muscle. But the trick is to find a tender spot and stay with it, almost sinking onto the roller. It might be worth inviting a friend along to watch your facial expression at this point – when they think you’re trying to pass a particularly stubborn kidney stone it’s usually a good indication that you’re doing it right.
Sweating? Muttering colourful language? Legs feeling strangely wonderful? Congratulations – you’ve just joined the foam roller club.
But this isn’t just a general guide to foam rollers – I wanted to introduce you to the newest addition to my cylindrical family. My first ever roller was a very basic one, picked up for around a tenner on the interweb. My relationship with it was short-lived, after I made the mistake of leaving it lying around at work, where a cleaner mistook it (understandably) for a bit of old packaging and threw it away. My next attempt was a similar, slightly smaller version which I didn’t leave lying around quite so much. I haven’t used it that much, because at around the same time a friend at work got himself a slightly better one, so I tend to use that instead. His is blue, for starters, and slightly textured. I’m not sure if this makes it any more effective, but it certainly seems to scare off over-zealous cleaners.
Months passed, and foam rollering (still a real word) continued to be an intrinsic part of my training, working its magic to the point where I can’t actually remember the last time I suffered DOMS** after a run. But it wasn’t quite enough, because just like a bloke dating the slightly-less-attractive Cheeky Girl*** I knew that I could take this to a higher level.
And that’s when I discovered the Rumble Roller.
Y’know, whenever I type those words I find myself glancing out of the window, half-expecting an accompanying peel of thunder. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
Anyway, a bit about the Rumble Roller…
There are four options available, starting with the size; you can either opt for a 12.5x30cm version, or a slightly meatier 15×77.5cm one. Next is the colour: blue or black. Rather than being a purely aesthetic touch , the difference in colour will have a bearing on how much you cry for the foreseeable future. The blue one is the standard version, while the black is extra firm for people with really dense muscle tissue (or who just don’t like themselves very much). The main thing that differentiates the Rumble Roller from its more vanilla cousin is the fact that its entire surface is punctuated with rows of firm rubber teeth. Feel free to imagine the offspring that would result from a giant rolling pin having sex with a stegosaurus, and you won’t be a million miles away.
On second thoughts, don’t imagine that, whatever you do.
There’s much more information on the Rumble Roller website, but essentially, the teeth are designed to replicate the thumbs of someone skilled in deep-tissue massage, penetrating into the muscle and triggering myofascial release, which is a fancy term for stimulating blood flow and reducing inflammation. The Rumble Roller came highly recommended by the awesome Taff Tanner but also with a hefty £60 price tag (less if you opted for the smaller version). As well as the
Rumble Roller, I’d been looking at the slightly tamer (but also slightly more affordable) Grid Roller which has the added bonus of being hollow, so if you take it on holiday you can store your socks inside it. The Grid looked good, and I knew a few people who had one, but although not one of them had a bad word to say about it, it was the Rumble Roller that was calling out to me like a spiky tubular siren.
I couldn’t justify shelling out £60 when I still had a perfectly serviceable foam roller sitting on my desk at work, but then my birthday happened. I’d already asked for Transformers from my wife and daughter, so had to think of something else when my Mum asked what I wanted for a present. Bingo!
(I mean “Bingo” as an exclamation of sudden understanding. I didn’t ask my Mum for an actual bingo game. That’s next year).
Fast forward a few days, and I took ownership of this nondescript cardboard box. It looked quite nondescript and inoffensive, but then so did the ark of the covenant right up until the last few minutes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Fast forward again, this time a couple of weeks. I’ve now used the Rumble Roller half a dozen times. I’ve cried actual tears each and every time.
If used correctly, a normal foam roller will cause a fair bit of discomfort, with a wince-factor similar to having your nostril hairs plucked out by a stout Dutch milkmaid. The Rumble Roller is a different beast entirely though. The very moment I started using it, I knew that this was going to be a love/hate relationship the like of which the world has never seen.
I’d like to say that it hurt so much that it actually sent me through pain and straight out the other side into a blissful garden of sun-dappled tranquillity. I’d like to have said that, but I couldn’t, because the only words I could squeeze out through my tight-gritted teeth were “neeeeyaaaaarghhhhh” and “hrgggggggg”. And they’re not even real words. Well, I suppose the first one might be Klingon.
(I should add that these noises didn’t really do much to change my colleagues minds about the whole “sex case” thing).
Yes, it hurts. And yes, it makes the previous agony of my old foam roller feel like being nuzzled by a friendly donkey. So why do we use the damn things? Good question, and one which I’d love to be eloquent enough and knowledgeable enough to answer. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to throw around colourful metaphor describing how painful the thing is than it is to actually sit down and explain the physiological benefits. All I can say is that it feels good in the same way as a particularly challenging hill session…
We don’t immediately feel the benefit, we certainly feel the hurt, but on some primal level we can feel wheels turning, connections being made, and we know that it’s moulding us into better athletes****. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t had any post-run soreness since I started using a foam roller. Is this because of the roller, or maybe because of the magical amulet I keep hidden in the shed, under the wheelbarrow? Who knows? What I do know is that I’d heartily urge anyone who enjoys running to try using a foam roller. To me, it’s as essential a piece of kit as compression wear or a GPS watch, and I just wish I’d discovered it sooner. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting off with a Rumble Roller, primarily because of the amount of “giant French tickler” comments it attracts, but if you start off with a more basic model and then fancy stepping up to the next level, it’s definitely worth the investment.
As a final note, I quite like the idea of naming my Rumble Roller. If nothing else, it would make it easier to shout personal heartfelt swears at it after a particularly nasty session. A few ideas that have cropped up so far are The Beast, the Annihilator, Mystique (after the X-Mean character who is the exact same shade of blue and also a little bit knobbly) and Brenda (no particular reason. It just looks like a Brenda). But you’ve taken the time to read this blog, and I do value your input, so I’ll throw it open to you. Best suggestion wins some stickers or something.
PS: IF you haven’t already started following me on twitter, what are you waiting for? There’s haiku and everything (@borntoplodblog)
* Just in case you’re anything like me. I heard a lot of people talking about rollers when I first started running, but months passed before I actually worked out what people did with them. I just sort of assumed they were a handy buoyancy aid in case a runner fell into a pond. I fell into a lot of ponds back then. It probably explains the disproportionate number of ducks in this blog. ** Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, acronym fans. Not to be confused with Donny Osmond Massage Service, which is something else entirely. *** Anyone reading this after 2003 might want to substitute this with some more up-to-date twins. **** Yes, I know I just used the word “athlete” while loosely referring to myself. In this particular instance, I’m calling myself an athlete in the same way that Genghis Khan would describe himself as “a bit huffy”.