Why you should care
Because who doesn’t want happy fascia?
Suddenly yoga teachers are sitting on them and bank clerks are rolling around on them. Blackrolls — self-massage devices — are becoming as popular as the sitting ball. But why are so many people taking increasing delight in rolling their bodies over a foam roll the size of a medium-sized vase, which initially feels just as uncomfortable?
It’s all about fascia fitness, a trend positioned somewhere between sport and prevention. Fascia is the tissue that connects muscles and joints throughout the body. Physiotherapist Kay Bartrow, author of Blackroll: Fascia Training For an All-Round Sense of Physical Well-Being, suggests imagining the connective tissue “as being like dough. If you knead it well, it becomes warm and soft.” The Blackroll is basically a rolling pin for the body. Physical therapist and connective tissue researcher Robert Schleip recommends using the massage roll to stimulate the exchange of fluid in the fascia, which squeezes you out “like a sponge,” he says, transporting metabolic products and lymph away from the fascia.
But users need to be careful, warns Michael Fredericson, professor of sports medicine and rehabilitation at Stanford. “Doing it directly over the spine or over an acute injury can cause problems.” Many people don’t understand how to use the roller correctly, he says, and people fall off them. “For elderly people, 6 inches can hurt,” he adds.
When Jürgen Dürr, who kicked off the rolling trend in Germany, came up with the idea 10 years ago, he hadn’t heard of the word fascia. He got the name from the German national soccer team who, under the aegis of their coach Jürgen Klinsmann, worked their muscles with white rolls from the U.S. Dürr wanted to sell the same rolls in Germany, “but the quality wasn’t right,” he says. So in 2006 he reinvented the roller with his friend, a mold maker. This version was black and made from polypropylene, an unscented foam that feels like Styrofoam but is much more stable. Sales of the $34 roller have been strong, with the nu mber sold reaching six figures for the first time in 2014, Dürr says. The Blackroll is currently shipped to more than 20 countries, including Australia and South Korea.
At first Dürr had limited success getting sport product retailers onboard, and had to keep demonstrating it. “It hurts at first,” he explains, but after that pressure comes relaxation. Blackroll’s breakthrough came in 2009 when it was honored with an award at a congress. Since, t op athletes — like Miroslav Klose and Marcel Schmelzer — have become increasingly enthusiastic about it. And celebs are also getting on the roll. Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop recently recommended foam roller training from Lauren Roxburgh, an expert for “structural integration” (body therapy with fascia). The article promises longer legs after just one session.
But will the Blackroll be one of those fitness gadgets soon to be collecting dust in the closet? After all, it involves commitment — from 200 to 300 treatment days, according to Dürr — and a certain degree of discomfort. To be on the safe side Dürr still drives his old car. The next version, Blackroll 2.0, is geared toward convenience, with a motor in the hollow section that makes the roll vibrate. “All you have to do is lie on top of it,” he promises.