Feel like a million bucks today!

The foam roller should be every athlete’s best friend.  It is essentially a poor man’s massage.  Not every weekend warrior, or college athlete can afford a deep tissue massage every other day, and the foam roller is the perfect substitute.  It is essentially deep tissue massage that causes relaxation in the muscle.  It still surprises me how many coaches don’t fully know about foam rolling and self massage.  Its probably the best thing most athletes don’t take time to do. 
Softest roller

Foam rolling helps to decrease muscle tone instead of creating tissue length changes like stretching.  We don’t always want to induce tissue changes.  Often times muscles are just hyper active causing problems.  Having hyper activity in the muscle, and or tight fascia (sheath that surrounds the muscle) can cause chronic joint pain, reduced flexibility, decreased mobility, and eventually injury.  If we reduce the muscle tone we can eliminate those problems.   Generally foam rolling gives all the benefits of stretching and then some. 

Next step up

Here’s a good video from Coach Eric Cressey showing how to foam roll, if you’ve never seen the proper application
before. 

Now for some science.  Part of the reason that foam rolling works is because of the golgi tendon organ, or GTO.  The GTO tells us how much tension is in the muscle / tendon.  When this tension exceeds a certain threshold, it triggers the muscle to lengthen, which inhibits the muscles from contracting and causes them to relax. This is known as autogenic inhibition.  This basic function of the GTO protects the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury.  Basically, what you need to know is foam rolling stimulates the GTO and allows the muscle to relax.  The more you foam roll, the higher your threshold will become. 

Harder yet

Rolling helps to breakdown adhesions in the fascia of the muscle as well as scar tissue.  These are things we don’t want building up over time.  Soft tissue massage like foam rolling helps to break up trigger points, and muscle knots.  These form as a by-product of everyday training, lifestyle, posture, etc.   It improves mobility, and flexibility while decreasing hyper-activity in muscles.  Foam rolling improves the quality of the muscle tissue and improves the quality of your movement as well. 

PVC - Not for the weak at heart!

Yes, just like stretching, it will be uncomfortable.  It takes consistency to see improvement in your tissue quality and have the pain subside.  Once that happens you can increase the intensity by stepping up to a harder roller.  Our rollers start soft, and increase in density all the way up to a 4″ round PVC pipe.  Obviously, PVC pipe isn’t the most comfortable thing to dig into your muscles and working to this level takes quite some time.  So don’t run out and buy 25 PVC pipes for your athletes just yet. 

Foam rolling has too many benefits not to do it, and for such a small cost it can not only improve performance, but quality of life.  My baseball athletes at TCU foam roll everyday of the week.  From a personal standpoint, foam rolling is one the most important aspects of my training.  It has improved every quality of my training.  I suffered from nagging knee pain for almost 4 years.  Since beginning foam rolling three years ago I no longer have that problem.  I can’t say enough about foam rolling.   It makes me feel like a million bucks when I’m done.  Start doing it today.

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10 thoughts on “Feel like a million bucks today!”

  1. We foam roll and massage stick before every training session whether it be a speed or strength session. I agree 100% with you on the importance of foam rolling. We actually start by rolling out our feet with a baseball to work on the plantar fascia before working our way up the rest of the body with the foam roller or massage stick. It works great to prep the rest of the body for rolling. Do you have any insight/experience with this method?

    1. Yes, I have used this a lot in the past. How good does it feel! Talk about a million bucks, rolling the arches it amazing. Actually, before I got to TCU we used it daily in our training. I guess it kind of got lost in the shuffle when I got to TCU. I’m actually diving into some of the ideas on how everything is completely interconnected in the body through the fascia and how important it’s role is. It not very common knowledge. I’m working on a book called Anatomy Trains. A good text but somewhat advanced. Thanks for all the comments Trent. I like hearing your thoughts.

  2. I have a rounded shoulders problem. I seem to have tight pecs, front delt, upper traps and leveator scapulae. How do I massage these areas. They seem hard to reach with a foam roller.

    Thanks,
    Deep

    1. These area’s are hard to hit with the traditional foam roller. Often times we use baseballs, softballs, and lacrosse balls to get into these area’s, especially the pecs and rhomboids. The other area’s like levator scap, and traps are usually best manipulated with a partner using THE STICK on you. This is how I work out knots in the traps of our baseball athletes, but if you don’t have a partner it isn’t so easy. Doing some stretching can help when you have no other options. But massage is almost always the best option but obviously not always cost-efficient.

  3. Hi Zach,

    Thanks for the great website. Do you have tricks to active the GTO of the psoas? I’ve tried (maybe not hard enough) foam cylinders and balls rolling to put pressure on the lower part (in the groin, attaching to the femur) without much success. Could that be useful in treating the lower crossed syndrome?

    1. Yes, any type of soft tissue work goes a long way to loosening up muscles. The psoas is going to be incredibly tough to actually get to because of its location. The best option would probably be something of a lacrosse ball. These work really well but I’ve never tried them on my hip flexors. The psoas might be one you have to just stretch. A standard hip flexor stretch works here but add an arm reach straight up on the side of the leg being stretched. Then laterally tilt your torso away from the side being stretched to maximally get the psoas.

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