LAST YEAR, AS THE 2016 TURKEY TROT Training Plan was progressing, it seemed helpful to encourage the practice of foam rolling by participants as mileage increased weekly. Beginners who might never have heard of ‘self-myofascial release’ could be inspired to start early in their running life to receive relief from stiffness and soreness, and possibly prevent injury. What better way to motivate than to find scientific evidence that foam rolling MIGHT have a beneficial effect on reducing cellulite! The short version of the story of my literature search on PubMed is that there wasn’t published evidence that foam rolling could lead to smoother, beautiful thighs, buttocks, and arms.
It was a disappointment.
Thus, the title of a recent article, “Can Foam Rolling Really Reduce Cellulite?” by Julia Malacoff for SHAPE.com caught my attention. Perhaps someone else had been more successful at this search? Or possibly newly published studies had found a link between foam rolling and less ‘cellulite’?
As in many articles that ask a question that could lead to a dream-come-true answer about something, hope is not completely crushed, but neither is it completely fostered. This piece provides expert opinions that help us understand the potential short-term advantages of foam rolling when it comes to cosmetic effect. Regular foam rolling can make cellulite temporarily less noticeable, some say. Other treatments are identified in a second article on the same topic, which offer longer term changes, but are also not permanent, and likely quite expensive.
Cellulite forms when subcutaneous adipose tissue (fat just beneath the skin) is traversed by bands of fibrous tissue that are tethered to the underlying muscle, which causes skin dimpling. The changes are more likely to occur in women and increase with age.
Minimizing overall body fat through nutrition and exercise is a logical treatment method but one that seems discouragingly difficult. There are so many other important health reasons to lose fat and improve strength that reducing cellulite would seem to be low on the list. But it is a reason that might motivate a change in diet. A previous EARNED RUNS Science Friday BLOG post that discussed the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on diets and body composition. Many and various diets can lead to reductions in body fat; all require a sustained calorie deficit.
How about aiming instead to improve the look of specific body areas that show cellulite? I am a woman who has a normal, sometimes deemed below normal, BMI and ‘cottage cheese’ on my upper arms (inner biceps area). I had been searching unsuccessfully for exercises that would not add bulk (this area is already muscled), but allow me to wear sleeveless tops and dresses without being conscious of my appearance. I felt fit, but my upper arm cellulite didn’t send that message. After a month-long commitment to perform passive stretches every morning before getting out of bed, I noticed the area of concern looked surprisingly better. Just a bit, but enough that I was encouraged to do more work. My upper arms aren’t perfect now, but the daily isometric exercise required to hold leg stretches had started to streamline what needed smoothing. Additional exercises have helped.
Of course, my small success is anecdotal. But foam rolling isn’t a permanent solution it seems. And experts suggest the change is inevitable; that’s what saying females “genes” are to blame will mean to many. There’s nothing to lose in trying spot strength exercises to burn fat and build muscle. And perhaps success in cellulite ‘spot’ removal will empower our later efforts to increase lean muscle and reduce overall body fat for the BIG health reasons, not merely for cosmetic effect.
ISSN Position Stand: Diets and Body Composition
BLOG POST SCIENCE FRIDAY: Preserving Muscle
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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