Okay, so you've seen people smooshing themselves around on those big pieces of foam at the gym. Are they practicing their balancing skills? Maybe summoning some sort of strength magic? Nope! Foam rolling is really just a way to get a good massage — without a masseuse.
But foam rolling definitely isn't a new thing: Rollers have been a standard part of the physical therapist's toolkit for years now as a way to ease the tension in sore or injured muscles during the rehab process. The thinking is that, by rolling slowly and methodically over a section of muscle and fascia (connective tissue), you can relax and release that tension. Not only does this make you feel better in the moment, but it'll also help keep any minor muscle tension from developing into bigger, more chronic problems.
The technique is called "myofascial release" and it's basically that hurts-so-good feeling you get from a deep massage. And, because foam rollers can help you get that feeling yourself, they're enjoying a bit of a moment right now. They're a (relatively) cheap way to keep your body feeling relaxed without having to hit up a spa every week.
However, some experts aren't a huge fan of foam rollers for myofascial release, suggesting that they simply compress the fascia rather than really getting in there and massaging it. And, if you're not doing it right, it's surprisingly easy to make your muscles feel a lot worse. That means you've gotta resist the urge to expect a miracle cure — or freestyle your rolling technique.