TRAVERSE CITY — The foam roller seems friendly at first.
The lightweight log is good for “bonking” someone you don’t really want to hurt.
It’s approachably priced. Its smooth Styrofoam construction repels lint, hair and unseemly gym floor odor.
But lie down on it and friend becomes foam ... err, foe.
The roller lurches wildly, then wobbles in 1,000 places at once. Unfamiliar muscles twitch and quiver. The "powerhouse" core reveals itself as shaky jelly.
“You can’t cheat the roller!” chirped Bridgit Frank.
Slacking off is easy on a mat, explained the Traverse City Pilates instructor. But foam rollers expose all, which is blessing and bummer to Frank’s students in both her downtown Traverse City Village Pilates studio and in classes at the Traverse City Senior Center.
“You can’t multitask or think about what you’re doing later,” Frank said. “You have to focus on the roller to stay on it. This awareness is one of the best things about them.”
Focus is one feat among many. The innocuous cylindrical objects are the Clark Kent of the fitness world. Injury prevention, toning and strengthening, increased range of motion, and help with balance, alignment and self-massage are just a few bullet points on the roller’s bright resume.
Its popularity as a mechanism for myofascial release launched “foam rolling” as a verb and now rollers are common features in gyms, yoga studios, basements and office buildings. The fascia is connective tissue beneath the skin where knots and trigger points form. The theory is that breaking up – or rolling out – those knots speeds blood flow to sore muscles, accelerating recovery and providing a valuable stretching tool.
“I sell foam rollers every day,” said Marc McCombs, a personal trainer at the Traverse City retail store Running Fit. “I sell them to high school students, senior citizens and everyone in between. It’s a craze, though I wouldn’t call it a fad.”