Next up is one of those miscellaneous training items that make you feel like a real deal athlete.( well, me at least) You know what I’m talking about, the kind of tool that before I became so running/ fitness minded I never imagined this kind of thing existed. What I am talking about is the foam roller. Long explanation short, this is a round piece of foam that exists for you to self-massage your muscles after you have worked out and are sore/ tight and looking for some relief and to assist in preventing injury. A quick internet search will return dozens of variations of these foam rollers, but the one that is consistently regarded as the top of the line, the “Cadillac of Rollers” if you will, the one that is called The Grid, made by Triggerpoint Therapy. I am happy to tell you that I have been provided one of The Grid rollers to use and review for you.
Ok, so lets get this out of the way. Don’t mistake me here. Yes it helps, and yes, in the long run this reduces pain, but using this thing (any foam roller for that matter) hurts like a mother. It simulates a deep tissue massage, and as such uses your own body weight to supply the pressure. Dude, it hurts.
I am attaching some pics of me using the roller, but I am also linking to a series of videos that I used myself to get acclimated and for reference, by our good friends at Runners World.
Ok, time to geek out for a minute, because I think that having the background will give the point of reference and really help you understand where I’m coming from and drive home how the roller actually helps.
Bear in mind I can give you a rough idea. I am by no means an expert or authority on the matter and as is usually the case, there is so much more that goes into this, but I have the high level overview as to how things work and that will succeed in demonstrating my point.
When you exercise, your muscles utilize Glucose and Glycogen, you can basically think of this as fuel. Its an efficient source of energy and what makes things go when you are being active. There is a downside to this, however (isn’t there always?) the problem is that once the fuel is used up it leaves behind a byproduct, and that byproduct is called lactic acid. This is bad stuff. You know it, but you probably just think of it as the pain or the “burn” in your muscles. In realistic terms, it’s why your legs are killing you the day after you really go for it while you are running or lift weights too aggressively. It’s a sign you used up what you’ve got and fully depleted the supplies. This is not a bad thing, that’s when the strengthening happens and endurance is built. But back to the lactic acid. So, you hit the treadmill or the hills in your neighborhood hard, and as a result your leg muscles (quads, calves, etc) are now A) chock full of this lactic acid, and subsequently B) killing you. The acid will dissipate naturally, which is why the burn goes away after a day or so, or if you’d rather take matters into your own hands, you can massage the muscles yourself which helps to clear it out much faster (or if you want to throw around fancy/ official/ technical terms: you would be administering Self Myofascial Massage. See? Told you it sounds fancy and official). You can either shell out the money to get a massage every time, which (unless you have a money tree or a trust fund or something this is not really a realistic option) or get yourself a foam roller. The foam roller is specifically designed to mimic a massage that can be used to work out that lactic acid, loosen up tight muscles, and generally keep things more flexible and less painful.
An easy way to think of it is this: (I’m a food guy, so it always comes back to this for me) think of your muscles, (your calves for instance) as a piece of pizza dough. The way to use this roller effectively is to start at one end and slowly roll back and forth, working your way up your leg as if you were working the air out out of a piece of dough until you find a tight spot or knot (believe me, you WILL KNOW when you find one) and then you use the body weight and pressure to work out the knot. Then commence slowly working the back and forth as you work your way all the way up and then back down to where you started.
Ok, high level nerdy workout section complete. Sorry for the little background lesson there, but unless you have a little background as to why this tool is necessary, I feel like the message (and the value in the review) kind of gets lost.
So onto the review of The Grid.
Foam rollers are, as the name would suggest, a round tube made of foam that looks and acts much like a rolling pin. Only in this instance “the dough” that you are using this rolling pin on is your ailing muscles.
It’s generally 12” or so in length and about 6” wide. They get longer, coming in lengths of up to 36” in order to be used for other things like rolling your back and such. My experience has been strictly on the “running related” muscles, so I will stick to those uses that I actually have some experience with now. I am talking about my Calves, Quads (thighs), IT Band (outside of your thighs), and Glutes (…the butt).
The Grid itself is a departure from the standard foam roller. Pretty much all the rollers on the market you will find are basically one giant smooth tube of foam. The Grid, however is a hollow Plastic tube with a good inch or so of foam all the way around the outside, with a grid like pattern. The idea behind the pattern is that it mimics more of a human hand. The large flat panels resembling the palms, the long skinny panels the fingers, and the small squares the fingertips or knuckles. This is a damn sturdy piece of equipment and the quality of materials/ care in assembly come through. It just feels solid and like it’s going to stay that way for years. As for the usage, I have been using it quite a bit over the past month and I have had a very positive experience with it. I’m getting pretty good at using it/ balancing on it/ and getting the desired results. I can tell you that this is one of those things that is not as much “instant gratification” as it is a good habit to develop and will pay dividends over time. Important take away here is that although you will not feel better immediately after using it (it’s not magic, after all) I can report through my own experience that my recovery time/ pain has been substantially reduced. I feel better faster, and I am a huge fan of that.
Another nice thing about this being hollow is that I can string it onto the shoulder strap of my gym bag if I want to. This is a convenient way to carry it (and also makes me look super legit and like I am a serious gym rat when I do it…Just saying.)
So I have been working with my Physical Therapist and getting them to help me in learning the correct form on this thing. I wanted to make sure I was using it right/ to its fullest potential.
Bringing it back to the readers: who can use this/ who should look into this? I would say that this foam roller is more of a mid-level add on/ equipment addition. It’s not to say a beginner cannot benefit from this, but the circumstances for more frequent usage really start presenting themselves once you get comfortable running and your mileage starts increasing a little bit. Training for that first 5K? you probably will not need this just yet. However: training for that first Half Marathon? It may very well be time to get to rolling. This is one of those products that will not improve your running itself, exactly, but it definitely does improve your recovery, your mental outlook, and indirectly, the overall running experience.
Like I said in the very beginning of this review, for something that provides a bunch of benefits, don’t lose sight of the sight that you are putting basically all (or at least most) of your body weight down on a concentrated spot, and then using that spot to work knots out of your muscles. It hurts. Hurts so good, but hurts nonetheless.
I had been using a more entry level foam roller before I was provided The Grid, and between the pattern on the surface and the high quality/ stability of the roller itself, I have now been spoiled for the old one completely. Like I said, if you are progressing to the point in our running where you will start looking to up the mileage and frequency of your runs and want to help keep things loose and pain free, The Grid is worth checking out. It sells for about $40 everywhere I found it online. (it does bear mentioning that you can find foam rollers for as cheap as $16, but this is a matter where I believe you get what you pay for. One of the #1 complaints I’ve read when researching these rollers across the board was that with the less expensive rollers tend to lose their shape quickly with use and develop “indents or depressions” of compressed areas when you actually roll on it) I’d rather drop $40 once than $16 three separate times for an inferior product.
Overall, this is “one of the pieces of the puzzle” for me. This roller, combined with the consistent use of compression gear, additional cross training, stretching and strengthening exercises, and altering my running form are all working together to make me a better, stronger, more flexible runner. All that adds up to an injury free (or at least less injured) runner; and that is the name of the game. I am a fan of The Grid and encourage you to check it out, particularly if you are in a position like mine where some additional steps now to pay dividends later on are a point of focus for you.
I am approaching this review from my standard viewpoint of what I believe the core interest of this blog really gets at: that is to say I am presenting my review by looking at this product from the perspective of a person who is relatively new to the running world, has some weight to lose and wants go about losing the weight by starting to incorporate a more active lifestyle and want to know how sift through the volumes of available gear/ equipment out there.
One of the great benefits to running a blog like this one is that it puts me in a position from time to time to receive various products to use and review for you. Oftentimes, these items are provided to me free of charge. This is the only type of compensation I have ever received, and my acceptance of these items in no way constitutes any obligation to provide an unwarranted positive review. My opinions on the products are unfiltered and 100% my own.
**This product was provided to me free of charge, but again, this does not influence my review or views on the product in any way**
Also please note that these are the personal opinions and experiences of one individual (me) on my personal blog, and intended to be taken as such. I personally, and The Running My Ass Off Blog do not accept any liability from the purchase or use of any products reviewed on this blog.
**Sorry, just have to cover my ass here. These are unbiased reviews, intended only to help. I’m not going to try and sell you anything, nor do I want you to take my opinions as the final word on any product. Let me help you figure out what you should check out, and then check the stuff out for yourself to see if you like it.**