Ever show up to the gym with tight muscles? Or spend the day after a tough workout complaining about muscle soreness?
In most cases, a little muscle soreness is a good sign that you’re working hard when you’re in the gym.
Your pecs are tight after chest day. You feel a burn in your biceps and triceps after training your arms. Your quads, calves, and hamstrings are wasted after legs day. You know the feeling, right?
If you’re lifting heavy, training to failure, or hitting higher rep ranges, you’re going to experience some pain and stiffness in your muscles. And it typically shows up a day or so after your workout.
It’s a good sign that you’ve worked hard enough to damage muscle fibers to stimulate muscle growth and repair.
But too much muscle pain and stiffness can get in the way of your next workout, or worse lead to muscle imbalances and injuries.
Fortunately, you can do something about it. And it only take a few minutes. Foam rolling (also called myofascial release) muscles after a workout is a great way to: 
- Speed recovery
- Increase blood flow
- Work out knots, adhesions, and trigger points
- Improve flexibility and range of motion
- Reduce pain
Feel Your Muscle Fascia
The next time you’re feeling some muscle soreness or stiffness, blame it on your fascia. This is a tissue-like webbing that supports your muscles. And it’s where muscle pain and stiffness following a tough workout usually resides.
In the perfect situation, your muscle fascia slides, glides, moves and bends as you move. It’s loaded with sensory neurons that help your muscle communicate, so you can run, jump, and count reps.
But your fascia can develop knots, adhesions, and trigger points that get in the way of effortless and pain-free movement. Here’s how to tell what you’re dealing with:
- Knots: When muscle spindles contract, the fascia can get sticky and bunch together. When this happens, it typically feels like one area of a muscle has bump or raised ball of tissues that’s extra tight. Foam rolling and applying pressure helps work out these knots.
- Adhesions: Before the fascia starts to ball up from repeated movements and develop into a knot, it can stick together. Hit the area with a foam roller, and you might even hear a snap, crackle, and pop as the fascia releases.
- Trigger points: When the fascia gets stuck, it blocks communication with the central nervous system and becomes a sensitive pain point. Direct pressure, with a foam roller, is a good way to release trigger point and treat muscle pain.
Fix Muscle Pain and Stiffness with Foam Rolling
If you want to speed recovery after a workout, and keep muscle pain and stiffness to a minimum, foam rolling for a few minutes after training can help. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Go slow
You might be tempted to roll back and forth across the foam roller quickly, but it’s not the best way to release the fascia. Instead, go slow. Move the foam roller across a muscle an inch or so per second. The slow-and-steady approach will also help you identify knots, adhesions, and trigger points for further foam rolling.
2. Apply pressure on tender spots
When you come across an area that’s painful or tender, stop. Adjust your position on the foam roller so you can apply pressure on the area. Hold it there for at least 30 seconds. Hold it longer (60 to 90 seconds) for more tender spots. Yes, this is going to hurt a little. But applying direct pressure will help release the fascia and reduce muscle pain.
3. Change directions
By design, you’re going to foam roll a muscle using an up-and-down movement. But you’ll do a better job at breaking up knots, adhesions, and trigger points by changing directions periodically. Rotate slightly as you foam roll. Try moving across the muscle instead of up and down. Or use a ball instead of a foam roller to release the fascia.
4. Drink up
Proper hydration. I can’t emphasize it enough as a lifestyle habit for building muscle. You should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, but 16 glasses (or a gallon), is the ideal when you’re working out to promote muscle growth and recovery.
Being well hydrated, actually helps prevent the fascia from developing knots, adhesions, and trigger points in the first place.
You should be able to complete a foam-rolling session for a specific muscle group after a workout in just 5 to 10 minutes. I know you might be anxious to get on with the rest of your day and skip this, but you shouldn’t.
Foam rolling a great way to speed recovery, reduce muscle pain, and maintain flexibility and range of motion so you can keep on training hard and getting results.
Want to learn how to train hard, eat right, and speed recovery after a workout? Check out my customized training and nutrition programs to help you shred fat, build muscle, or transform your body.
- Pearcey, G., et al. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of Athletic Training. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4299735/.
- Behara, B., et al. (2017). Acute effects of deep tissue foam rolling and dynamic stretching on muscular strength, power, and flexibility in Division I linemen. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. From: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Citation/2017/04000/Acute_Effects_of_Deep_Tissue_Foam_Rolling_and.3.aspx