It's like a heated, mega-size, vibrating foam roller.

By Mallory Creveling
December 11, 2020
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Credit: Body Roll Studio // Piret Aava

I'm a firm believer in the benefits of foam rolling. I swore by the self-myofascial release technique both before and after long runs when I trained for a marathon last fall. It taught me the power of recovery for getting through long training days and months.

Research backs up some of the benefits of foam rolling, too. One meta-analysis suggests foam rolling pre-workout can improve flexibility in the short term and may help alleviate muscle soreness when done after exercise. (Related: How Bad Is It to Just Foam Roll When You're Sore?)

While I've tried to maintain a regular recovery routine since that marathon, quarantine times have made it more difficult. Often, instead of spending QT with my foam roller, I'm on the couch, equating my rest days to time spent binging "The Undoing." But a few weeks ago, as I geared up to run the Asics World Ekiden virtual marathon relay, I knew I needed to focus on soothing my overworked muscles. In addition to training for my 10K leg of the race, I also have a one-mile-a-day run streak going (I'm approaching day 200!), and I strength train three times a week, so I know my body could use the extra love. (Related: Which Is Better: A Foam Roller or Massage Gun?)

Of course, foam rolling is an easy way to recover at home, but when I heard about a machine at Body Roll Studio in NYC that could further help achy, fatigued muscles post-workout, I owed it to my body to check it out.

A Little About Body Roll Studio

With locations in New York City and Miami, FL, Body Roll Studio offers a sort of contact-less massage or machine-based foam roller session. The machines at the studio feature a large cylinder that has wavy, wooden bars all around it, which quickly rotate as you lean into the device, putting pressure on your muscles to help loosen up the fascia, or connective tissue. Inside the cylinder is an infrared light which adds a little heat to the experience and may elevate your recovery. (If you're not familiar with infrared light technology, it's a type of radiation therapy that penetrates up to an inch of the body's soft tissue to warm the body directly and is said to reduce joint and muscle pain, as well as stimulate the circulatory system and oxygenate the body's cells, allowing for better blood circulation.)

Body Roll Studio owner Pieret Aava says she first saw these machines in her hometown of Tallinn, Estonia where people were flocking to studios to find some relief. After trying the machines herself, she decided to bring the system to the U.S.

The Body Roll Studio website lists lots of benefits to using their machine — from weight loss and cellulite reduction to improved digestion and lymphatic drainage (the flushing of waste products, such as lactic acid that builds up during exercise, from the body). While all of this sounds promising, the science around myofascial release and infrared technology don't necessarily back up all of these claims. For example, experts say foam rolling may reduce the appearance of cellulite over time but it cannot actually get rid of it nor any fat that lies beneath the fascia. Additionally, there are some sound benefits to using a foam roller or, presumably, a machine like those at Body Roll, to remove waste in the muscle and reduce soreness. Also, relieving tight muscles just makes you feel better...and you don't need anyone with a Ph.D. to tell you that.

Whats It's Like to Use a Body Roll Studio Machine

The Tribeca studio feels very spa-like and zen with a calming scent and relaxing music. There are several Body Roll machines in the studio, each with a privacy curtain around it, so you basically have your own space for the 45-minute session. (Related: I Tried the Celebrity-Approved Face Mask Charged with Reiki Energy)

Before starting my experience, Aava gave me a rundown of how to use the Body Roll machine, explaining how to vary the body positions to comfortably add pressure to each muscle group. She also cautioned that some people get subtle bruising or experience soreness the next day. (FWIW, this could also occur with other intensive recovery methods, including a deep tissue massage.)

I started my session massaging my feet — I must for runners. Then for three minutes each, I let the wooden bars roll out my calves, inner thighs, outer thighs, quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, abs, back, and arms — sometimes straddling the machine and other times just sitting on top of it. (Thank goodness for the curtains because some positions definitely felt a bit awkward.) A monitor showed me videos of how to position myself on the machine to hit each body part, and a control pad on the side of the machine also beeped when it came time to switch positions.

The Body Roll Studio machine definitely gave way to that hurts-so-good feeling you might recognize when you use a particularly hard foam roller or percussion massage gun. But my favorite aspect of the machine was the warmth, thanks to the infrared light in the center. I ran four miles to the studio on a 30-degree day, so the heat felt like the perfect antidote to my deep inner chill. (Related: I Tried My First Virtual Wellness Retreat — Here's What I Thought of the Obé Fitness Experience)

When my session ended, I definitely felt calmer and walked out with that "ahh" feeling you get after a good massage — a quieter mind and relaxed body. What's nice about using a device or a machine for your massage (especially right now during the coronavirus pandemic) is that you don't have to worry about being in close contact with another human, as you would with a traditional masseuse.

My Boll Roll Studio Recovery Results

While the Body Roll Studio machine didn't leave any marks on me, I definitely felt a bit tender the next day. Because of that, I wouldn't recommend using the body roller too close to a race day or before you want to knock out an intense workout. That was my mistake, considering I did the session about three days before the virtual Asics race.

Still, I was curious what other recovery pros had to say about the benefits of using a machine like those at Body Roll Studio and how to get the most out of it. Samuel Chan, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York, says the machine probably serves someone best post-workout or race when muscles need recovery most. Chan also hinted that the slight soreness I was experiencing may have been from putting too much pressure on my muscles during the session. "Any soreness felt the next day indicates that the massage has actually caused deep tissue bruising," he says. "This will actually delay your recovery process, as there is now increased localized inflammation." (Note to self: More pressure does not mean more benefits.) It can be difficult to control the level of pressure you put on the Body Roll machine (or at-home, a vibrating foam roller, for that matter) during positions where you're sitting on it or putting essentially your entire body weight on the tool. So, if you're like me and often push through discomfort, proceed with caution.

Chan also mentioned that the warmth from the infrared light may amplify any potential recovery benefits, such as improved circulation, temporary increase in range of motion, and a decrease in soreness. It may also help to further remove waste products like lactic acid, he adds. "Providing heat to tissues will encourage vessel vasodilation (widening), thus allowing faster clearance of waste products by our venous system and lymphatic system," he says. "This is one way infrared light can be beneficial post-activity and promote recovery." (Related: Should You Take a Cold Shower After a Workout?)

If you're missing massages right now or you're looking to turn up the intensity of your regular foam rolling session, and you don't mind shelling out some money to do so — single roll sessions will cost you $80 or $27 express rolls — I'd personally recommend checking out Body Roll Studio. It's the spa experience your body and mind probably need right now.

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