Thanks for tuning into my blog/article today. First, I have to “disclaim” that this blog is written based on my professional experience and from anecdotal conversations with some great therapists that consult for my company Human Motion Inc.
So, you will not find academic references here, or scientific research to back up my claims. Please read with that in mind and apply the principles I outline with the same vain.
So, why do SHOULD everyone have a foam roller in their arsenal of training tools?
Well, it certainly does not replace a gifted manual therapist, but it does provide some fascial restriction-relief and sets a ‘tone’ (no pun intended) for joint mobility work and movement preparation which also accompanies a complete warm-up or pre-training ritual. I will digress for a moment if I may. I use the word RITUAL because of its roots in the term HABIT. Foam rolling and thus, a pre-training ritual should be habitual for optimal body function and results.
1. Selecting an appropriate foam roller – length and density (firmness)
The length of the foam roller is irrelevant. In fact, the compact, smaller ones fit better into your gym bag and hold a wonderful bottle of wine on your plane ride home from your tropical winter vacation!
So, go shorter in terms of length. They also allow you to unload one limb if you need to decrease the pressure.
What about density? It is my opinion that the more dense foam rollers are best for athletes with large amounts of armor (muscle mass) or those individuals with a little more inch-to-pinch. So, match how hard the roller is to the said above. For example, a slim, endurance athlete may want to opt for a roller with more cushion and softness than a linebacker, or a speedskater with quads the size of barrels.
Ironically, the same goes for your bed mattress. Skinny folk need a softer mattress to sink into. Rounded folk can opt for a firmer mattress.
There are many brands out there competing for a piece of the market-pie. And I do have some favorites for different reasons. I am not here to promote, nor am I sponsored by (I wish), the Trigger Point brand, but I do like their foam roller : The Grid. It is not as as hard as my Travel Roller though, so I do tend to use both depending on the area I am working on. I find the Travel Roller better on my glutes. But I like the Grid from my beaten up quads (days) after sprints on the football field.
I do not like those white ones that deform in a matter of minutes, or any other ones that cannot take any volume of work. Plus they are less hygienic as the foam is porous and you cannot wipe it down.
3. How to “Roll” – Some Principles to Follow
Well, like Tu Pac said : “Picture me Rollin” There are no hard and fast technical rules in terms of body position unlike a kettlebell swing, where technique is where it’s at. However, I do have some principles you can follow about body position:
a. On face down rolling drills, such as rolling out your quads, always place your elbows under your shoulders and do not slouch here. Keep the chest wide and the neck neutral and shoulders away from your ears. Also keep the abs ‘on’ or the lower back will move into excessive extension. Be aware of good posture, even in face down positions.
b. When rolling your t-spine, keep a neutral pelvis. What does this mean? Place the foam roller lengthwise, across the mid-back, support your head with your hands and keep your buttocks on the ground. DO NOT arch your lower back, allowing the distance between your last ribs and your ASIS (hip bones) to INCREASE. Instead, keep the distance the same as if you are standing up straight. If you are moving the thoracic spine into extension, keep the lumbar LOCKED and the abs ON to create stability below the joint(s) you are working on. The t-spine extension is not a myofascial drill, it is a joint mobility drill. Know that too.
c. When you find a knot, a hot spot, an ‘owie’ – whatever you want to call it, DO NOT rub vigorously up and down on it as if to scrub it out. You will only create MORE inflammation. Instead, roll gently above and below and on this area as if you are painting on a canvas. Imagine you are painting and match your breath to the movement, breathing out like a sigh. You can also rest on the spot and imagine it is a pat of butter melting on toast. Use this imagery. It will help your body heal. Healing is part of the PNS dominating in recovery.
Another idea is to lessen the amount of weight on that hot spot – no one said you have to let all your mass succumb to gravity atop the foam roller. If you cannot regulate your breathing and the pain is a 6 or 7+ out of 10, then it is too much for you PNS to regulate. Think pleasure and relief, NOT pain!
d. Roll FIRST. Roll before joint mobility drills, before dynamic warm-ups, before static stretching etc etc. it should be the first thing you do before you train. It may be the ONLY thing you do that day. But it should not be what you do after training. No, it does not promote recovery. In my opinion, it promotes inflammation beyond what the body has normally created to aid in tissue repair.
e. How long: It depends…..Roll for approximately 10 minutes prior to the rest of your preparation. I find 10 minutes is enough to get the areas we need to without making the athlete/client sleepy and lethargic and ill-prepared to give it 100%
4. The most important areas to roll for most people are:
1. The adductors (groin to knee area)
2. The quads and up into the TFL – make sure to roll all muscle groups here by altering the plane of your femur (turn your thighs)
3. The mid to low back – Note, I prefer to use a basketball (leather) for this area as the ball will get into areas that a foam roller cannot. It is still rolling, but now you are using a different tool.
4. The soles of the feet – Use a stick like the Tiger Tail and begin seated. Only weight bear on this if the pain is mild. Also, Lacrosse balls work well here too and are cheap and easy to pack in your gym bag.
5. The glutes – Use a foam roller here as well or the basketball to get at the deeper external rotators. A tennis ball can work well here too if you are not carrying too much body-fat in the glute-area.
5. NEVER Roll these areas
Your IT bands and your C-Spine. Always stay on muscle tissue.
6. Order of Rolling
The general rule I follow and teach with respect to order is this: If you have to eat a 100 grasshoppers, eat the biggest one first.
Roll the areas that need the most love first as you will not be rushed. See above for common areas that need myofascial work. Do the have-to-do’s before the nice-to-do’s
7. Coach Bott’s last words
I have been coaching now for 17 years and as the industry of health, fitness and sports performance has evolved over this time, I have seen many ‘trends’ come and go (I have always been a traditionalist though). Pre-training preparation is NOT A TREND. Being kind to your body is NOT A TREND. Do what you need to do to get the best performance from your body in a training session or in competition.
So, I leave you with this: You do not need the newest gadget or the magic potion to facilitate a sound training program. You need to give credence to the yin and yang of our biology.