To Roll or Not to Roll?

To roll or not to roll IT Bands, that is the question. Everyone seems to use a foam roller and, like me, learned to roll out their IT Bands

(illiotibial bands; i.e., the sides of your legs). Well, news flash: opinions are changing! Apparently, although rolling out the IT Bands feels good it’s no longer considered the end all be all of Myofascial release techniques.

The illiotibial band is a long fibrous buttressing of connective tissue that supports walking. When rolling them, we are actually rolling the adjacent muscles, which, unlike IT Bands, have the ability to change length. To find relief it is better to get a ball designed for body rolling and focus on releasing your Tensor Fascia Lata referred to as the TFL. The multifunctional TFL is the muscle alongside the front of your hip above the IT band that in abduction assists internal rotation of the hip and hip flexion. It can have trigger point knots that feel tender or rope-like and you will get more relief through your IT Band after you’ve release the knots in your TFL.

Now, all this doesn’t mean that rolling doesn’t feel good! But I’d recommend going with a softer roller because roller density does matter. If you are working out at a gym, those popular dense black rollers are probably too hard for the job. Rather, look for the original white rollers introduced by Moshe Feldenkrais to the Somatic movement community in the 1920’s. There are still plenty of usages for the familiar foam rollers of all different densities, so if you already own one here is an option. One of my favorite things to do on a three-foot foam roller is to lay on it head to tail and work on balancing. Once my center settles and my breathing easily engaging my core on the exhale I will add the challenge of lifting one leg at a time, then progress to single arms and, if I feel really stable, while lifting one leg I will add the opposite arm creating a cross-lateral challenge to the core.

For body rolling, use various soft- to hard-density rollers for more muscularly dense areas such as your quads, hamstrings, calves, and back. Experiment with the different rollers to figure out which density you prefer to use where on your body. For example, I love the white Feldenkrais roller for my back and I prefer the medium white and blue/green marble-colored rollers for my quads and hamstrings. As they say these days, "you do you!"

While to roll or not to roll remains a perennial Pilates question, please always check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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