That's How I Roll: Foam-Rolling for Athletes in Training

By Joshua Hagen

Foam-rolling the single greatest thing that I have introduced to my students in as long a time as I can remember.  The improvement I have felt in my own recovery time alone is astounding.  Universally my students (and their spouses, their parents, their friends, to whom they’ve in turn sung the praises of the foam roller) have noticed a marked improvement in their bodies in terms of recovery time, rehabilitation (even of relatively old injuries), and flexibility.

The impetus to try foam-rolling myself, and later introduce it to my clientele, came from reading the incredible “Advances in Functional Training” by Michael Boyle.  If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you do, whether you’re a coach or not.

I now get my athletes to foam-roll their entire body when they first arrive at the dojo, during that natural time when they’re catching up and chatting about their day, and generally not ready to really train yet.  Once they are done foam-rolling, we proceed to static stretching. This is followed by warm-up, and then training.   

Some of you may have red flags going up right away at the mention of static stretching before training. As Boyle’s book explains,  “[...] Post-workout stretching does not seem to produce gains in flexibility.  The key may lie in performing static stretching near the beginning of the workout, followed by a dynamic warm-up. Static stretching would be done to increase flexibility while the muscle is most prone to increase in length. Dynamic warm-up should follow to prepare the muscles for exercise.”

Foam-rolling at the outset in fact prepares the muscle to be properly (and safely) stretched. We may compare foam-rolling to rolling out pizza dough. If you were to just pull on each end of a lump of dough, it would thin out near the ends and be more likely to tear in spots (as occurs with static stretching without rolling). Stretching without rolling would also not help with any knots in the muscle: without first rolling, as you stretch, the dense parts (knots) will actually remain, while the thin areas only get thinner.  Foam-rolling first makes the muscle more uniform, therefore less prone to tear, and more likely to increase in flexibility.

Think of foam-rolling as a cheap massage that you can do daily, without ever having to leave the dojo. I look forward to hearing what others have to say about their own experience with foam rollers, or if they’re considering trying them out.

Excerpt From: Michael Boyle. “Advances in Functional Training.” iBooks. 


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