That Foam Roller Doesn't Work

 

     I just got back from the Perform Better Functional Training Summit that took place in Long Beach, CA. My staff and I attend this event annually. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn as a team together. It also gives me a quick glimpse into the future of fitness and to see the new “hot” topics and training modalities. This year didn’t let me down, as mobility and breathing were frequently discussed. Neither topic is new, but how they are being implemented into the workout are. As the fitness industry get’s away from “Frankenstein”, or muscle group training, and shifts into movement-based exercise, people are starting to appreciate the benefit of moving better. I’ve mentioned in prior articles that it’s rare for someone to walk into my studio and share that their #1 goal is to move better.

     A few years back, I started programming mobility drills into my workouts. One of my strategies was to mix in some tissue work via foam rolling in the beginning to improve mobility. There has been some recent research and debate siting that we may have overstated the benefits of foam rolling.

 

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This research states that the “adhesions” people feel they are breaking up with foam rolling or the Graston technique may actually be a neurological effect. I have seen clients benefit from foam rolling, but the explanation I’ve used may have been misinformed. This doesn’t mean we will discontinue the rolling at the studio. I’m a huge proponent of it. If it’s producing results, I’ll continue with it. What I learned this past weekend is that I may want to identify when to use it differently for optimal results.

     Greg Rose, founder of the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) and one of the co-creators of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), gave an informative lecture explaining the 3 factors you need to address when the goal is to improve mobility. The 3 factors are mechanical, neurological, and chemical. The objective of a coach should be to determine the source of the mobility limitation first, then take the appropriate approach.

     The mechanical factor references  a joint (ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and the gleno-humeral). Distraction, breathing, and flossing have proven to be good to fix these problems. Foam rollers work well in this setting. This is also where hanging, using inversion tables, has proven to work well. Kelly Starrett, author of the NY Times best seller, Supple Leopard, has popularized the distraction technique of using bands to create space within a joint capsule.

     The chemical factor can be inflammation. DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, can be a big contributor to inflammation. It’s funny that the strength coach can be the source of inflammation and, in essence, create the temporary mobility restriction. One of the best & easiest ways to address inflammation can be diet. Fish oils, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts have been a good way to address inflammation. Sugar has been proven to be a contributor to inflammation. This has fueled much of the modified Keto-genic and fasting raves, as of recent.

 

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     The final factor can be neurological. This is the explanation behind the body producing stiffness in an effort to protect itself. This factor hits close to home for me. Back in 2011, I suffered a severe hamstring strain. I was preparing for the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC). If you have ever performed a kettlebell swing you’re aware that it puts a big demand on the posterior kinetic chain (lats, paraspinals, glutes, and hamstrings). That’s one of the reasons why swings are a great exercise. Not the best choice when you’re nursing a hamstring strain. The injury caused inflammation and pain, which explains my lack of mobility around my knee, where the hamstring attaches. The neurological factor lasted for years because my body became accustomed to limping to shift weight off the leg. It took me years to re-train and strengthen the hamstring to where it fired back in the correct sequence. I could have foam rolled for an hour. It wasn’t going to improve my range of motion.

     I have a love for learning, especially when it explains something I experienced up close & personal. Don’t throw away your foam roller just yet, but there may be a few other ways to help you touch your toes.

     See you at the studio.


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