Foam rolling,Foam rolling was introduced to me in 2013. I was mounted to the floor, facedown on my stomach, with almost no ability to move from the position. A day earlier I had been trying a new exercise that was similar to one that I had been well trained in. The slight variation in retrospect put an extreme amount of tension on the lower back. Simply put, coupled with the “loose” form and 225 pounds my lower back went…
I dropped to the floor like the iconic see of platoon and that was it. I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t even cry out for help because the pain was so intense. Luckily I was born in an era where my cell phone was also my music device and I quickly contacted my roommate (at the time of this writing my future groomsmen). He along with 2 other friends picked me up, set me in his car. After a short call to my mother who is a nurse, we decided to head to the nearest hospital. After some super cold fluid I literally felt go through my veins via the IV, the pain subsided and I was happy to lay back on the gurney. (See fun image below)
A severe grade 2 muscle Tear. They said anymore and the muscle probably would have and may come off of the bone. I was told to rest, not workout for 2-6 weeks, and take over the counter meds for the pain. So there I am, mounted to the floor. My roommate is feeding me protein shakes and bless his heart, dumping the uernal they gave me at the hospital. My back was pretty much healed at the muscle level by day 3, but my gosh I had no mobility. I may as well have had a steel rod in my back. So what’s an exercise science major to do?
I spent the next couple of hours looking how to best get my back from being so stiff. Everything was stretching, take a hot shower, lay on a heating pad. Meanwhile, I still can’t make it to the bathroom (thank God it was only protein shakes I was consuming…). Then I found it, myofafcial release. This is the stretching and mobilization of the fascia.
Perfect! How do I do this witchcraft? Foam roller? Okay, well I didn’t have that near my person. I had my roommates tv remote. It would have to do, I pushed that thing in my back until My eyes filled with tears. I continued this for 10 minutes, literally feeling the tension release moment by moment. “Finally, that had to work”, I thought to myself. Sure enough, I slowly gathered myself and stood up. Hallelujah hallelujah like the famous song of a eureka moment.
My back was still so sore and weak, but I had enough strength to walk. In three days I hadn’t moved from that spot. That day I went and had my first solid meal, edible gold. No doubt, I was 100% the happiest person in that cafeteria. I could have cried tears of joy. What a day to be able to walk again and eat solid food!
I thought okay, I’ll take it easy and be back in a week or so. I’m an optimist, so this would be easy to be hopeful for a fast recovery. I woke up the next morning unable to get up again. I continued my state-of-the-art Toshiba remote control myofascial release for the next 3 weeks. It ended up taking about 2 months before I did any back or leg work because of it and nearly a year before I wasn’t concerned about reigniting an injury. I moved on to using the black foam cylinders tucked away in the corner of random areas of my recreation center.
After finding a couple of articles and how to descriptions I was hooked. I did not have and have not had any injuries since (knock on wood). It is now a cornerstone of what I do after my workouts, when I have time prior, and whenever I am lacking mobility. I had the great fortune of being asked to be an ambassador for hyperice, a major professional athlete rehab and prehab company for many renown professional athletes. One of the products I use and have my clients use is the vyper 2.0. It’s a vibrating foam roller that helps to penetrate deeper into the tissue and increase circulation more effectively.
I still keep my old foam rollers for myself and clients. This is mainly for spatial cues for form and the less dense one for those who are not accustom to the technique. If you aren’t foam rolling yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a simple 5 minutes or so that may keep you from being stuck on the floor, facedown, using a urinal, that your future groomsmen takes care of for you… thank you Adam! So there you have it folks, foam rolling and my introduction to it.
Today, more people are rolling now than ever before in time for recovery. As active individuals, this is a great addition to a healthy fitness regimen. Just like it’s cousin stretching, foam rolling has numerous benefits. It can help to alleviate sore muscles greatly for starters. Injury prevention is also increased when foam rolling is incorporated. Decreased time for recovery is an added bonus. Lastly, it is a great way to stimulate the nerves and nervous system.
For people who want to maximize their fitness and health, foam rolling is a wonderful addition. Oftentimes, sore muscles are a large complaint about exercise. This is especially true for those whom are new to the activity or those whom are resistance training. For those who decide to go forward with both, it can be downright debilitating. Being a personal trainer, I’ve had clients tell me that the were unable to straighten their arms fully after a work… for several days.
In retrospect, my lack of experience when I first started training, probably lead to too much too soon. If you fall into this bit of lack of mobility, extremely sore muscles or a combination of the two, foam rolling can be a Godsend. It can bring muscles that seem improbable, back to life. It may be very painful, but if you can get through this brief period, it will make a world of difference in both the amount of pain experienced and decreased mobility. Both factors will improve as a result. You may need to repeat this multiple times, as soreness will linger along with tightening of the muscle.
Stretching is good, but foam rolling has benefits stretching does not, or does not have to the same degree. In addition, foam rolling is great for relaxing the goli tendon organs, allowing a muscle to contract better and have increased range of motion. In addition to this, foam rolling also increases localized blood flood of the area in contact. I share how this has been improved even more so below in my personal experience with foam rollers that vibrate to increase circulation even more so than traditional foam rolling.
One of the best overall advantages to foam rolling is better overall healing. The amount and acuteness of any adhesions (knot-like buildups of healed muscle at a microscopic level) are significantly decreased. This allows for better sliding of the action and myosin filaments that make up our muscle tissue. This in turn equates to better overall function and reduced risk for injury. This rolling of the adhesions increases blood flow, nutrient delivery, and oxygen to the tissues. Because more oxygen is present and a greater concentration than would normally occur of nutrients is present as well, greater and faster healing occurs.
Look at it this way. Say a building is being built and a storm comes through and damages it. The workers assigned to that section will then fix it accordingly with what material they have one site and continue on after they are finished. This is similar to what happens when we damage the muscle in a healthy way with exercise and give the body good rest and nutrition to rebuild. But, imagine if those workers had a brand new delivery of supplies and didn’t have to scavenge for replacement parts.
This is similar to the body bringing the nutrients and oxygen to the focused area from the foam rolling. It is maximizing its potential for the area with everything the body needs (assuming you’re eating a well balanced diet with plenty of complete protein for repair purposes). This can be a game changer, especially if it is debilitatingly painful, you train frequently, or you simply don’t want to be sore for a longer period of time.
Alternatively, this is great for helping to prevent injuries as well. I can personally attest to this with (knock on wood) no injuries over the past 5 years. Another benefit to foam rolling is that it is similar to a warm up in that you must stabilize yourself to perform the various moments. Each movement requires a different angle and requires you to use the arms, legs, and core to obtain the proper movement. This actively engaged those muscles, and in some instances, works them to the point of mild fatigue. Oftentimes, I’d perform prior to the workout I will break out in a light sweat by the end of the foam rolling session due to all of the movement that occurs.
This is definitely an added bonus as I do not have to formally “warm-up” as much. This is a great way to save time and maximize efficiency. This also has the mental benefit of forcing you to focus on your body’s sense of awareness and the workout ahead. It’s pretty hard to balance and roll on your IT band and text at the same time. This helps to make a more coherent transition into the workout from your previous activity.
Another added benefit is an increase in proprioception.
What the heck is that?! It is essentially your awareness of your body and your body in space. A fun example I like to try from time to time on myself and clients that shows quick and easily what and how good yours is is the door test. Basically stand 10-15 feet away from a door, take a good long hard look, to the best of your ability with your eyes closed, try to walk over, grab the handle, and walk out of the room.
If you have great proprioception, you will be able to navigate through space with only your body’s awareness of where it was at the start. Poor awareness and you may end up at the adjacent wall. If you try this, go slowly, hand outstretched, and with no obstacles on the way (unless you are trying to go master level). Normally, I’ll miss the door handle by about 8-12 inches. A goal to strive for in the future! Here are some links that you can visit to see the science behind foam rolling.
If you have any questions, send them my way! Take care, all the best, and God bless!
Interested in the viper 2.0 or my earlier foam roller models, check out these links: