By Zach Columbia
Ah, the beloved foam roller. How painfully marvelous it is. We’re taught by the experts that foam rolling is a necessary tool for preventing injury and increasing mobility. However, the first time you experience the piercing, burning sensation of rolling your I.T. band, you quickly realize the satanic nature of those so-called experts. While there is still only a small sample size of research that has been performed on the benefits of foam rolling, ask anyone who regularly partakes in the occult ritual and they’ll swear by it. Whether you’re a believer, a hater, or never experienced the joy that is foam rolling, it’s important to understand one key, but frequently overlooked factor of using this mystical tool.
There are so many benefits to foam rolling.
It empowers people with a level of self-care that previously, was only available through massage therapy. However, if you live by the foam roller, you could die by the foam roller.
Foam rolling has been shown both to reduce muscle pain and soreness, as well as increase athletic performance. It works by applying smooth and targeted pressure to connective tissue. This pressure helps to lengthen and relax the connective tissue while eliminating adhesions “knots.” It also increases blood flow to the muscle tissue and can aide in proper neuron recruitment, which controls how efficiently our bodies move. Sounds great right? So, what’s the downside? No, it’s not that foam rolling hurts.
Humans are creatures of habit.
Not just in our daily routines, but in the physical constructs of our bodies. The activities or (lack thereof), create internal habits or movement patterns on how our body’s control movement. Whether good or bad, these patterns are how our bodies have been trained to move. We must recognize that the body is one system. Modify the length-tension relationship of one muscle or the sequence of how the neurons of that muscle fire and the whole system is impacted. Change how the body has been moving for years and risk of injury increases. Herein lies the problem with foam rolling.
Foam Rollers most often focus on “problem” areas.
They don’t treat the system as a whole. Focusing on a small sample size of muscles may improve the pliability and quality of those muscle fibers, but left untreated, the antagonist and synergistic muscles can become dysfunctional. It is not uncommon to see an injury in an antagonist muscle that had never been problematic prior to habitual rolling on its counterpart.
So how do you live by the foam roller, but not die by the roam roller?
There is one approach that works best.
Take a segment of muscles to focus on every day of the week. For instance, Monday may be Pecs, Lats, Bi’s and Tris, Tuesday being Calves, Anterior Tibialis, and Hamstrings. Wednesday being Quads, hip flexors, and glutes, and so on and so forth. This approach works best, especially for the athlete with a rigorous training schedule or for those who frequent the gym regularly. Set aside 15-20 minutes each day. In the evening while you wind down for the night is a great way to fit it into your daily routine. Making sure you hit each muscle weekly is a great way to reap the benefits of foam rolling, without placing to much focus on one specific muscle and not the others.