Got kinks? Get rolling

The Baltimore Sun

Mashers are people who walk on your body to help work out stubborn kinks and knots. If you're five-time U.S. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, your mashers are experienced massage therapists.

But you might have an amateur masher like mine: a 30-pound preschooler who thinks it's fun to stand on your neck. Fortunately, the good old $20 foam roller can be an inexpensive alternative. These log-shaped tools, which cost between $18 and $40 and are generally 6 inches wide and 3 feet long, can help break apart adhesions in the connective tissue.

Shorter, thicker and less flexible than swimming pool noodles, foam rollers let you apply pressure to an area using as little or as much body weight as you like. I won't kid you: It hurts. But like deep tissue massage, rollers can release adhesions throughout the body.

You can also lie on a roller to "strengthen your postural muscles, enhance balance reactions and activate your deep core muscles," said physical therapist Donna Gambino, author of On a Roll (at) Home, a training manual of foam roller exercises.

To lie correctly, make sure the head and the tailbone are supported by the roller, which rests parallel to the spine. Gambino tells beginners to lie for two to five minutes and breathe. She has them try to contract the transverse abdominus (TVA) muscle, one of the most difficult muscles for most people to find.

In the beginning, it does feel a little like lying on a log, but once you get used to it, the foam roller feels softer. On the roller, the TVA muscle is surprisingly easy to locate; once you've mastered that, you can incorporate movements with the arms and the legs, Gambino said.

Still, foam rollers are not for everyone. Rolling can be dangerous if you have osteoporosis or blood clots. And rollers are extremely uncomfortable to lie on if you have scoliosis.

Most people, meanwhile, don't know what to do with the rollers unless they've seen a therapist or personal trainer. Your best bet is to use them like a balance disc or a Swiss ball - an adjunct for total training.

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