The benefits of foam rolling are vast, but only turning to the tool to ease muscle soreness isn't your best bet
Foam rolling is like flossing: Even though you know you should do it regularly, you may only actually do it when you notice an issue (in the case of your workout, that'd be when you're sore). But before you beat yourself up, know that while you may not be reaping all the benefits of rolling that you could, just reserving it for after a tough workout or for when your muscles are aching isn't necessarily a bad thing, says Lauren Roxburgh, a trainer and structural integrative specialist.
That's because whenever you use recovery tools like the foam roller (even if it's just every now and then), you're cleaning out some of the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during exercise. Compare the action to putting air in your tires—you're fluffing the muscle up so it's not as tight and dense, Roxburgh explains. But you're also rolling out connective tissue, or fascia. Fascia wraps around your entire body like a wetsuit, from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. In healthy form, it should be stretchy and flexible like Saran wrap, explains Roxburgh. But knots, tension, and toxins can lodge in the fascia, making it hard, thick, and dense, like an ACE bandage. If you had surgery, a doctor would notice the difference. (Even Gwynnie's on board—read more about The Organ Gwyneth Paltrow Wants You to Know About.)
So while reaching for the roller at all is great, making it a habit is better. In her forthcoming book, Taller, Slimmer, Younger, Roxburgh says that a regular rolling practice can help you lengthen muscles by turning off overworked muscles and helping you tune into stabilizing muscles like your core, inner thighs, triceps, and obliques. You may even feel a little taller, as rolling can decompress the spine and other joints, improving your posture.
Roxburgh recommends foam rolling before your workout for five to 10 minutes. By hydrating the tissue before you exercise, it will be more supple, giving you greater range of motion during your workout (read: longer strides on your run, deeper pliés in barre class). Even on rest days, foam rolling will release tight muscles from sitting at a desk all day. And the best part is, you don't need fancy recovery tools to reap the benefits: a simple foam roller and a tennis ball are Roxburgh's go-to tools. (Try these 5 Hot Spots to Roll Out Before Every Workout.)