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Why We’re On A (Foam) Roll

Photo credit: http://www.leanitup.com/workout-plans-limber-battl…

In a previous post we went over why it’s wise to add foam rolling into your training regimen. But in case you wanted more proof, a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that rolling on a foam roller both pre- and post-workout allowed for better hip flexibility and range of motion. More data that appeared in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that one minute of foam rolling pre-workout can improve range of motion. And yet even more research from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise cited that rolling can help offset delayed-onset muscle soreness.

So why do some people still hate on foam rolling or claim it’s a bad idea to foam roll? Possibly for three reasons. One, it depends on the area being rolled two, they might simply be trying to stir things up in an effort to get hits on a blog post; three, maybe foam rolling isn’t so beneficial — for them. As strength coach Mike Boyle points out on menshealth.com as he rebuts a popular article on The Huffington Post, many of the “horror” stories you hear about your IT band bruising or your nerve tissue being damaged isn’t common. The truth is, foam rolling doesn’t feel as good as, say, a Swedish massage. For that type of pleasantness you should — that’s right — go ahead and get yourself a Swedish massage. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that the short-term pain leads to breaking up knots in muscle fascia (aka muscle adhesions) and loosening up muscle fibers.

Is foam rolling a fix-all to every sports injury? Nope. It’s another tool that can help keep you prepped for a workout or recovery. Think of it like a P4 workout supplement. You can take Pre Game Formula or Recovery Push Formula for an energy rush before or during your workout and blast through your sets and reps. Or you can train without them and still get the work done but miss out on some of the benefits (creatine and beta-alanine, as well as added support for recovery come to mind, respectively). The point is, the sports supplements are add-ons to doing the actual work.

As for rolling in the wrong areas, let’s take hip pain as an example. It’s often tricky to pinpoint a point of origin for hip pain. The pain you experience in your butt may be from your hip alignment or a tweaked lower back. And if it’s actual butt pain that can stem from nerve impingement in the lumbar spine. So if you’re rolling your glutes and the issue is in your spine, it’s not going to get any better. In that case, continuously rolling on a point where your alignment is messed up can contribute to more issues and pain. Some trainers suggest refraining from lower back rolling altogether, as it can create too much pressure and discomfort afterward; others recommend that you don’t roll over joints to avoid hyperextending them.

Going back to the “for them” comment, if you roll over these or any areas and you’re not affected or injured, why is it so bad for you? The answer: it isn’t. Many things in fitness and exercise aren’t universal. If that were the case we’d all do the same workouts and take in the same amount of protein and reap the same rewards. That’s not how it works. That being said, when you do roll, make a point not to be too aggressive. Meaning, just roll by putting yourbody weight into the quads, upper back, glutes, or anterior hips, and not by trying to flatten out your muscle like you’re rolling dough.