What is this foam rolling and why do you wish me to suffer?

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m a ridiculously agreeable person (some might say doormat, but I disagree. See? I just disagreed there), but the first time foam rolling was written in to my program, it didn't even cross my mind to skip it.

This is not a pool noodle or a medieval torture device. Well, I mean that's not the intent..

This is not a pool noodle or a medieval torture device. Well, I mean that's not the intent..

That was in 2010. Since then, I've started every workout with foam rolling, and I include the same format for all of my clients. I was surprised to learn from my sheepish but honest clients, that most of them just flat out skipped it. (For anyone unfamiliar, a foam roller is the thing in the corner of your gym that looks like a short fat swimming pool noodle. It's not a noodle.) 

Me: How is foam rolling going?

Client: .....

Me: You know, the first part of your program? The thing you do before your dynamic warm up?

Client:.....I was....in a hurry....

(Banging my head...slowly...)

So a few things about foam rolling.

1. It will take awhile to get comfortable with it.

If you are doing this in public, you'll feel like a turtle rolling around on the floor. It feels weird. The roller might go skirting across the floor. You might feel dumb. You are not dumb. If you do this at home and have a dog or a toddler, rest assured, play time is on.. If you are truly uncomfortable being on the floor with the foam roller, or if you have any particular injuries that prevent you from getting on the floor, there is now another option:

The foam ball (click me)

The foam ball works the exact same way as the roller, but you can wedge it up against a wall to roll out the same muscles if that is more comfortable. Listen I know it looks weird at first, ok? But trust me, all the cool kids are doing it.

Ok, well, maybe I don’t really know what the cool kids are doing, but it’s good for you. Also, eat your vegetables. And drink your protein shakes.

2. But what does it do?

It sort of irons out your muscles. Foam rolling has been linked to improvements in flexibility, athletic performance, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). *

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, which is a term given to a specific form of manual therapy that is intended to have an effect on fascia.* Fascia was once described to me as saran wrap for your muscles. If you keep wrapping saran wrap around the left over piece of steak, you're going to get bumps and lumps all over the place. In your muscles, these are adhesions and scar tissue. You’ll notice when you first start foam rolling that some places feel good, and that others will make you use scream like an actress in a bad horror movie. 

Note: go easier on those spots, ok? In fact, when you find a hot spot, move about four or five inches away and work around it, not right on it.

3. When to do it?

First of all, every day. Workout or no workout. Do it every day. Buy one for your house, give your dog some peanut butter, and do your foam rolling. 

I do it before I work out, some folks do it after, and some folks do it both. Before a workout, foam rolling is linked to increased flexibility in the short term, and as someone who is not flexible at all, I notice a difference. Foam rolling also promotes blood flow, which is one of the reasons I like to use it at the beginning.

When used after a workout, the foam roller is linked to a reduction in perceived soreness during the 48 hours following a damaging exercise.*

4. How do I do it?

If you're still reading (thanks!), you might be wondering exactly how you do this...

At some point I'll make my own video, but in the meantime, I don't think you'll find a better explanation than this one, from the folks over at Cressey Sports Performance.

Watch this video. It takes three minutes of your time. 

5. Where do I buy one (Thanks Barb!)

You can purchase these at most sporting good stores, but I recommend getting one that has PVC pipe in the center, as those will last longer.  Here is a link to one on Amazon that fits the bill.



*All of the research I'm referring to comes from a study on www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com.