Foam Rollers - A Secret to Helping the Fencer’s BodyHave you ever seen one of these things? Foam rollers have been a secret of athletes who are working to loosen their bodies for many years, dating all the way back the 1950’s. Like many workout tools, they’re something that can look a little strange if you’ve never seen one before, but trust us when we say that they’re definitely a good thing for your body.

What foam rollers do

A foam roller is a large cylinder of hollow plastic that’s covered in textured foam. They can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but they’re generally about the size of a large log of wood. They work like a massage to loosen tight muscles and help reduce aches associated with training. Unlike a massage, you don’t need anyone else to help you when you use a foam roller.

These devices are commonly used by physical therapists and high level athletes, so they are definitely a professional level tool.  Foam rollers work on the soft connective tissue that’s between the muscles. Using one for two minutes per day has been shown to improve muscle range according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Bodybuilders are the people who usually use foam rollers, and they’ve found that these simple devices have loads of benefits.

  • Improve joint range of motion
  • Improve muscle recovery
  • Offers no sacrifice to strength or performance
  • Can be done without assistance
  • Only takes a few minutes

Using a foam roller can help you to take your physical fencing game to the next level. No matter what level you’re at, from novice to expert, you can get more out of your body with a foam roller. In today’s world this is a tool that’s used by dancers, martial artists, weightlifters, volleyball players, and so many more.

How to use a foam roller

Now that you know what one is, how about some things to do with one? You can use a foam roller at the club or at home, it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you keep yourself active and engaged with your body through the use of the foam roller. Roll before you do your cross training like lifting weights, after a long fencing practice, or at any other time that you have tension in your muscles.

Here are some exercises that you can do with your foam roller to get more out of your fencing.

  • Bottom roll

Yes, this rolling exercise takes place exactly where you’re thinking – your glutes. Fencers rely heavily on these muscles to help them spring forward effectively during attack. You want to ensure that your glutes are as flexible as they need to be.

Sit on your foam roll, one leg straight out. Then cross the other ankle over your opposite knee. Now roll back and forth, pulling out the soreness from all of that lateral movement.

  • Hamstring roll

Next up is the hamstring roll, which will help to alleviate this injury prone area and keep it loose.

All you do for this one is to sit behind the roll, bend one leg and push into the roll with the other one (the one that’s straight out) on the area from the knee to the hip. Roll back and forth, relieving tension and pressure.

  • Calf roll

Another important muscle group that’s used heavily in fencing. The calves get a great deal of strain, and releasing them will help you in so many ways.

This is exactly the same as the hamstring roll, except you bend your knee and put it on the floor behind the roll instead of over it. Roll back and forth, releasing tension and pressure.

  • Quadriceps

Find that spring in your step again with these quad exercises! These are some that feel oh so good.

Get down like you’re doing push ups, then straighten out your legs and roll back and forth up and down your quads, elbows and forearms supporting you on the floor.

  • Upper back

Take on the upper back with this straightforward exercise. So much of fencing involves the use of these muscles, keeping appropriate posture and helping to support the movement of the sword.

Sit as though you’re doing a sit up with the roller underneath your upper back, hands behind your head. Now lift your pelvis off the floor so that you’re pushing your full weight into those upper back muscles. Be sure to keep your pelvis still as you roll back and forth.

Things to avoid with a foam roller

There are some definite things to avoid when using a foam roller. Some of these are things that you may already be doing if you’re using a foam roller, and some of these are things are things that you’ll want to avoid before you get too deep into using one as a beginner.

  • Don’t wait until it hurts

Like so many things, the real value in the foam roller is that it can be used as a preventative measure to keep that connective tissue supple and loose. It’s best to use it a little before and after every practice for just a couple of minutes, incorporating it into your warm up and cool down processes. At the very minimum, use the foam roller whenever you feel tense or tight. If you wait until you’ve got pain, well just don’t do it!

  • Avoid the right places

ALWAYS stop rolling if you feel a numbness or tingling. This is not about going extreme. Instead, try working on your body lovingly and stay away from places like the sides of the lower back where your kidneys are going to get hurt with rolling. That same wisdom goes for injuries. Just don’t roll on an injury! (Unless your physical therapist has instructed you to do so). Though rolling can really help you to take the soreness out of your muscles and the connective tissue between them, it can’t take away the more acute pain of an injury. If you have swelling in an area, stay away.

  • Don’t move too fast

It’s easy to start getting into the roller and just go too fast. What makes this thing work so well is the pressure that your body weight places on those connective tissues. If you’re going too fast, that means you’re putting your body weight into your arms or legs that are supporting you, not in the part of the body that’s in contact with the foam roller. You want to go slow enough to allow the work to get into those deep tissues.

  • Don’t go too slow

Of course the opposite side of that equation is not going fast enough. Movement increases the flow of blood, and that’s a big deal when it comes to this whole process. Wiggling is a good thing when you’re using a foam roller. And yes, there will be times when you want to sink into a position and allow yourself to get deep down in there, but keep wiggling and moving even during those points. This is no time for a nap.

  • Change up rollers

There are so many options out there for rollers. Some are hard and some are softer. One quick fix if you’re working with a roller that’s harder than you’d like it to be is to put a blanket or a towel on top of it to offer some cushion for your body. It doesn’t have to be much, but just one more layer of softness can make a huge difference in the way the roller feels to you.

Just go for it with foam rolling!

This is one of those easy investments for the serious fencer that can help so much. When you’re at home watching your favorite program or news show, take out that foam roller and work out the kinks.  This is one of those things that’s so good for your body, but it also feels so phenomenal! You can really just enjoy, moving around your own body and discovering where you’ve got tension and where you’ve been pushing perhaps a bit too much.

So much of fencing is about getting in tune with and appreciating your body. Just jumping onto the strip and flapping that sword around is not enough. You need to be able to get to what’s going on underneath and to really learn to know where you hold things, where your body feels off, and where you need to push it a bit more. No matter what age you are, no matter what kind of fencing you’re doing, it’s possible to get more out of your body by taking better care of it, even in small ways as with a foam roller. You want to be fencing for the long haul, so consciously take care of your body!