Some Rules of Foam Rolling
Written by: Coach Slater
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably guilty of foam rolling incorrectly or doing so for the wrong reasons. If you’re quickly rolling over various areas or just kinda hanging out on the roller, then you’re not doing yourself any good. So, let’s get that fixed.
First, if walking a thousand steps a day hasn’t lengthened the fascia on the bottom of your foot, then a few swipes on the roller aren’t going to do the trick either. The roller may make it feel better and more awake, but the pressure required to get significant change would leave you screaming. I’m guessing that you haven’t been applying that kind of pressure previously. So, your big swaths of fascia can’t be “lengthened” through foam rolling.
Second, a slow motion move over an affected area is better than a static hold, and definitely better than rolling over the area quickly. If the pressure is on the right point, then spending 20-30sec there should give your nervous system time to adjust and relax that particular trigger point. More time isn’t necessarily better, but accuracy of placement is. You should hold still on the area and laterally slide your body side-to-side over the roller. The roller shouldn’t move really; you should move around it. Also, by slowly and mindfully moving your body over the roller, you’re aiming to create a burning sensation. I’ve heard this compared to “that Indian rope burn your mean older neighbors did on your arm when you were a kid.” I think that’s a great comparison.
So, slow down. The deeper you’re going, the more slowly you should move. And look for unknown places; places you haven’t touched yet. Your body has many layers that can be usefully rolled but won’t respond to the same-old-same-old. Move your body over the roller to create shear, so hold it still and you’ll see greater benefits.
Now, here’s the bigger topic that I feel is important to address. It’s very possible that foam rolling has zero long-term effects and continuing to use one day-in/day-out is doing nothing to improve your mobility. The issue coming up in research is that, over time, your body adapts to it so it no longer has the same benefit. You foam roll for months, then it stops having the same benefit, so you go to a PVC pipe… then a PVC pipe with rope knots… then tiny, aluminum tools at your chiro… then hammers, spikes, and a gag device from your significant other… or whatever. My point is that, seemingly, our bodies adjust to the stimulus and are no longer stimulated. So, if that’s the case, is your body really becoming more “supple”? Has your range of motion changed one iota in all the time you’ve been foam rolling? Didn’t think so.
What the foam roller is probably doing is giving your central nervous system a chance to relax, as your body’s fight-or-flight response relaxes, thereby giving your body a temporary gain in range of motion and helping you feel less sore. The foam roller seems to remove neuromuscular blocks that your body put in place to stop you from certain ranges, probably due to a lack of effective stability throughout your entire body. As a result, you have a small window of opportunity to work in new ranges of motion… so use this window to teach your body these new ranges. Get to work after rolling. Don’t wait around.
What I kinda implied in those past two paragraphs, but didn’t say explicitly, is that the foam roller can be beneficial for reducing soreness, especially when used post-workout. So, if you find the foam roller enjoyable, then by all means continue using it; but, don’t spend 20 minutes rolling on one every time you step in the gym. Cut it down to 5 minutes or less, and then move on to something that will actually prepare your body for the forces you’re about to move. The foam roller only treats symptoms, but it won’t fix the cause of your symptoms.