Foam Roller: Friend or Foe
Do you have any habits that you seem to always resort to even though you do not actually understand why you are doing it? We as humans should always strive to understand why we do certain things. In the realm of CrossFit, the biggest example of this concept is someone walking into the gym and grabbing a foam roller. In this article we are going to go over the why, what, where, when, and how of self-myofascial release.
*P.S. this is probably going to change the way you warm-up forever. *
*P.S.S. This is strictly talking about the best way perform myofascial release*
Before you continue spending time and money on going to the gym, you need to think about WHY are you doing what you are doing. In this case, you need to think about “Why am I rolling out or mashing my muscles before exercise?” The reason this is important is because almost no one actually knows why other than everyone else is doing it or it just makes you feel good. We live in an incredible time where we have all of the resources and more for learning exactly why we should do something. Let’s start off with why you should NOT be spending precious time before exercise torturing yourself on a lax ball or foam roller. According to traditional exercise science, foam rolling or mashing with a lax ball has been regarded as one of the best ways to increase the range of motion in a joint. The thing that people very rarely continue reading on to see, is that it is very transient, meaning it only lasts about 10 minutes and then it is back to normal. Next, let’s answer this question. After you get a massage, what is the first thing that you want to do? If of you answered High-Intensity training than your problem is not flexibility. A massage is simply a more intense and targeted session of myofascial release, and the actual common thing after a massage is to want to go to sleep. If you are wanting a little more science in this answer than look no further. Every human was created with an autonomic nervous system, AKA your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic is the fight or flight response and the parasympathetic is rest and digest. Before exercise which of those responses sounds most beneficial? If you said sympathetic than you are so smart! The way that our amazing bodies work is that when muscles are being massaged, your brain sends a signal for the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. So now you know that massaging the muscles (Foam rolling, mashing with lax ball) before exercise actually impairs your ability to get ready for highly intense training, so now it is time to find a smarter way to warm up. Next, we are going to check out what you can do to get ready for exercise.
So now we are taking a look at how you can maximize your time before class to get ready to train hard. At CrossFit Deep, we offer flexibility/mobility assessments, where we go over how you can more accurately warm up and exercise. We provide you a framework by which you can have a baseline you can check every time you come into the gym. Let’s say that the first time that you were assessed, you had full range of motion in your hips, but today your hips feel tight. You can then know that your hips need to “taught” to work at full range of motion again. It has been shown that unlike self-myofascial release and static stretching (which decrease performance) banded joint mobilizations have had no adverse effects on training. Whether it be for the hips, shoulders, hamstrings, or ankles, banded joint mobilizations are great to do before exercise to reach an optimal range of motion (Check some of the videos that I have provided at the bottom of the page to learn some of these techniques). Let’s say that you passed all parts of your flexibility assessment with flying colors, you do not need to try to increase your range of motion before exercise because guess what? It is already there! What would be beneficial for you would be to simply warm up. Spend that 5 minutes before class doing some air squats or hanging from the rig or doing push-ups, something that will slowly increase your heart rate and ready you for exercise. Let’s now say that you have warmed up and done banded mobilizations but yet you still are not seeing a change In your mobility, then at that point it would be ok to perform some self-myofascial release techniques.Thankfully there is a time and a place for self-myofascial release, but it is all about figuring out when is the best time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love self-myofascial release, I think it is phenomenal. Before you get super confused, realize that is all about timing. Instead of being so worried about showing up to class 10 minutes early just to roll out or mash out, take that time and stay after class 10 minutes to roll out. The reason that it is important to roll out after exercise is because the true help that you are going to get from rolling out is the flushing of toxins and build-up of fluid in your muscles, as well as it will help improve your flexibility over the long term if you are diligent at sticking with it outside of the gym. After you workout is when your body desires and needs to have that parasympathetic nervous response to calm down, not before your max snatch. On your off day rolling out can definitely make a huge difference in relieving your soreness as well as improving your flexibility, so rolling and mashing are phenomenal, just not right before you exercise. Do you want to know one of the best times to roll out? Do it right before bed, when your body is ready to rest and digest! So in summary, roll out and mash after exercise to help calm yourself down and transport excess fluid out of your system and on your off days off to aid in recovery.
This next section of where to roll out is the easiest to understand now that we have gone over why we do self-myofascial release in the first place. The places that you want to do this is somewhere where you exercise so that you can finish your session with it, wherever you want to fall asleep, and or somewhere that you can roll out in a relaxed state to help your body recover. It's as easy as that!
Lastly, we are going to go over a little bit about the how’s of self-myofascial release and warming up, but I think this would all come a lot easier through videos so take a look below.
Make sure to inform/educate yourself in whatever you are doing, because that is how you start to make a true difference. There cannot be true growth until you actually understand why you are doing what you are doing. I am a huge advocate for myofascial release, but we need to make sure that it is purposeful and focused. It is also important to note that if you solely foam roll or mash out before exercise because it just straight up makes you happy, by all means, continue doing it. Like it was said earlier, rolling out before exercise is not going to noticeably decrease your performance, but there are better ways to spend your time. All of this information is a choice for you now; use this knowledge and explore it more (don’t always blindly trust someone) or just ignore it and continue doing what you have been doing. Strive for efficiency and excellence, whether it be in your warm up or what you do at home.