SF State students find new way to release stress and "Work the Foam"

Work the foam SFSU

Renee Quesada exercises during the Work the Foam fitness class at SF State on February 24th, 2012. Photo by Cindy Waters.

The feeling of restless muscle tension is all too familiar for a student who has had to sit through a weekly three-hour lecture class. SF State’s Group X program now offers a solution for teachers and students feeling tense or stressed from long hours in the classroom.

Work the Foam, a class designed by fitness instructor Arnel Valle, allows students to experience Tai Chi and a new concept called foam rolling. The class is structured in a way that helps students feel more comfortable in their day-to-day activities by using a foam roller, a cylindrical object anywhere between 1 to 3 feet long, used to perform self-massage.

“For people coming to my classes, they’re able to sit at a desk and have really good posture,” Valle said. “They’re sitting up, they’re not slouching.”

Valle, inspired by an idea from former fitness manager Jackelyn Ho, created the class by incorporating techniques from yoga, relaxation concepts from Tai Chi and cardiovascular exercises to elevate heart rate. The class was added to the recreation schedule this semester to teach students how to improve posture, ease stress and increase circulation in the body.

Students are Valle’s ideal candidates for foam rolling because they spend hours sitting down at desks listening to lectures or studying at home. These lifestyle patterns and movement behaviors can cause muscles, especially in the legs, to become hyperactive and even shortened to a degree, said Ryan Saplan, personal trainer.

“It’s almost like your brain and your muscles start to think, oh, we’re supposed to be like this. We need to stay like this,” he said.

A study by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse found that foam rolling may not increase flexibility, but using foam rollers for self-massage decreases stress.

Class participant Rachel Critelli, 20, said that the class works her muscles in a way that relieves tension from the stress of the day.

“I really enjoy the class,” she said. “It’s really interesting because you start off with the foam rollers, and that’s something that not a lot of people do.”

Valle started teaching classes after working out at the local 24 Hour Fitness and took a significant interest in Tai Chi. Valle’s enthusiasm and energy in class led him to find a position as a fitness instructor.

“There are certain personality types that inspire people to work out,” Valle said. “I think that makes the biggest difference because I actually want people to love going into a class.”

Valle designed the class so that techniques are focused on areas of body tension. Valle discovered that he could use the foam roller in the same manner he would a balance ball or a yoga brick.

The foam rolling helps to relieve pain and allows the muscle to be used to its fullest potential. SF State kinesiology associate professor Matt Lee explained that adding pressure from foam rolling helps release the muscle and improve comfort.

“Personally I’ve done it and it does help,” Lee said.

The idea of foam rolling is so new to SF state students that many don’t know what it is and some are skeptical of its validity.  Senior and physiology major Thaddeus Blustein, 22, has seen people foam roll but doubts if it actually helps.

“I think some of it is probably a homeopathic thing,” he said. “But a greater portion of it is placebo.”

Effective or not, health education major and junior Renee Quesada, 20, enjoyed how the class challenged her mind and balance. She found Tai Chi to be the most challenging aspect.

“I liked it because it was something different that I have never done,” Quesada said.

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