If you've ever been to a gym, you've probably seen your share of foam rollers. But what is a foam roller exactly? Is it a pool toy, or is it some sort of American Gladiators jousting stick? At the risk of looking foolish, you may have avoided this piece of equipment altogether. But these simple pieces of foam, the tools to a technique known as myofascial release, can unleash hidden potential in your fitness routine. Here are the top four reasons you should be using a foam roller regularly:

1. Improve flexibility and range of motion
Foam rolling is like giving yourself a massage. It releases tension in the muscles, allowing you and your joints to move more freely. By taking pressure off the joints, it allows for more dynamic moves during physical activity. This is important whether you're a professional athlete or an active senior hoping to enjoy daily activities without pain and discomfort.

2.  Improve circulation
Healthy circulation is critical because blood carries oxygen throughout the body. A significant decrease in circulation can lead to serious health issues such as numbness, fatigue, vertigo, swelling, and more. Use foam rolling to improve circulation by loosening up tight areas where blood flow may be restricted.

3.  Improve recovery time between workouts
You don't have to be a professional athlete to have experienced delayed onset muscle soreness, the feeling of pain or stiffness in muscles you exercised about 24 to 48 hours after an intense workout. Foam rolling can significantly reduce the amount of soreness you experience after a workout. Simply target the muscles you used during your workout and you should have less discomfort the next day.

4. Prevent injury
Consistent foam rolling helps you avoid injuries associated with muscle tightness. If you have improved mobility and range of motion, your body will move much more fluidly and will be less prone to pulling a muscle. Beware: foam rolling an already injured area may cause increased inflammation, so roll with awareness.

By implementing foam rolling into your routine, you'll decrease the amount of pain and discomfort that may come from exercise or having a sedentary lifestyle. Then, you'll be well on your way to accomplishing bigger and better fitness goals.

Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a Philadelphia-based studio offering 1-on-1 personal training, physical therapy, and nutrition counseling. Philly Personal Training is the only personal training studio or gym in Philadelphia that requires its personal trainers to possess a college degree in an exercise-related field, as opposed to a basic certification.

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