The other day I was rollin’ with my homies… well ok, my girls and I were getting ready to blow off some steam and WORK out, not ROLL out. But we were rolling out our glutes before a heavy deadlifting session and ended up pre-gaming the workout with a lot more spots than originally planned. I added one little step to the first lat roll and this single cue brought the whole mobility session to the next level.
benefits of foam rolling
What was the step that pushed the night over the edge? Well, before I recount that event, I should probably bring you up to speed on what foam rolling really does for us. The story just won’t make much sense without some background leading up.
Rolling has a multitude of benefits. But you may have heard that silly rumor that foam rolling by itself is a great stand-alone program to solve your range of motion limitations. Foam rolling is great. But not alone. And not the way most people go about it.
And why it’s great? Well, it may feel like you’ve got the spins after you read some of the research. Google foam rolling and you are guaranteed to find a multitude of seemingly complete answers, hidden under mountains of big words and scientific jargon that you don’t understand. I will save you the biological sciences dictionary translations. The real secret is that these “answers” are mostly incomplete and full of speculation.
we don’t really know
Very concretely, foam rolling can, in fact, increase range of motion. That is the most important thing to note. And whether that is by hydrating the muscles(making them more pliable), decreasing pain by placebo(that’s a real consideration), decreasing pain by activating neuroreceptors(brain tricks), or actually causing some change to the muscles themselves(which is actually the least likely of all theories), IT WORKS. We just don’t really know for sure why that is exactly.
But what we do know, is that any of these explanations would only result in a short-lived window of opportunity. Meaning that, you’d need to challenge this increased range of motion(with strength work of course!) for it to stick. Making foam rolling a solid, if not IDEAL choice for pre-warmup mobility. Like I said, not meant to be practiced alone.
And that, for most of these explanations to be true, and to maximize your efforts, you’d want to find a way to get some shearing force going while you’re foam rolling a trigger point, rock of stability, knot in the muscle, acorn you’re storing away for winter (yeah I’ve heard that one) or whatever label you use to describe that one single junky spot that seems to always get in the way of you moving more freely.
Find a Stretch
"Applying shearing force" is a fancy way of saying find yourself a way to pull apart that nasty spot while you've got it wedged between the pressure of your body weight and the foam roller. In other words, STRETCH.
This is a game-changer! We added a stretch to the lat roll and the girls found that they had way more range of motion in their shoulder warm-up exercises. Which led to a particularly awesome push-press session later in the class. Everyone felt great with the overhead challenge, which is an extremely rare and awesome occurrence these days.
Get creative here. I’m going to show you my most useful foam roll stretches. But feel free to play! There’s not really a wrong way to foam roll.
Because the truth: we try to make our mobility sessions at sophisticatedstrength as fun and effective as possible. That’s how we roll.
Foam Roll Lats
Start on your side, rolling from back to arm pit to find a spot. Reach, roll, lift x 5.
Foam Roll Gutes
Sit on one glute and bring that leg up and over. To stretch, exhale and pull the knee into the chest x5.
Foam Roll Pecs
Keep the palm down on the rolling side. Exhale and push the opposite hand into the ground and turn away from the rolling side. Inhale back down.
Foam Roll Quads
Exhale and pull your heel to your butt x5. This can also be used for hamstrings/IT band if you roll the side of your leg. It's a particularly mean one.
Foam Roll Calves
Point and flex the ankle or move it in a circle x5.
Foam Roll Thoracic Spine
Start with the roller at the bottom of your rib cage. Inhale and reach your chest to the wall behind you. In the bottom, you can exhale and let the elbows open up. Close the elbows to pull yourself back up out of the stretch. Move the roller one inch up your spine each rep.