FIRST, if you’re not interested in my painful story and want strictly the instructional + results, jump to the bottom of the article.
I’ll be honest….I was doing this foam rolling thing wrong too for quite a long time. The formula for me was grab my fancy smancy foam roller (pictured above), lay down in between sets, and roll back and forth quickly to try and relax my back before the next set. Often times this was during a nasty marathon session of Deadlifts, aka anything over 5 sets for me….
Psst…if you’re interested in the foam roller..It’s called a GRID foam roller and it’s manufactured by TPTherapy.com. It’s amazing, especially now that I know how to use it, but keep reading below.
You can purchase it here:
Foam Rolling? Does 30 seconds count?
Let me back up a little bit. I never stretched. I
do did very little mobility work. However, as a result of good form, I’ve limited my injuries to minor tweaks here in there. However, that all changed a few weeks ago when my squat form started to bring aching pain and my deadlifts were off-kilter. To describe the issue in further detail the pain was a slight ache and tightness in the lower left hand corner of my back. In addition, my upper left trap felt extremely tight and felt sore to the touch. My right leg felt slightly longer than my left and I found myself with some impingement whenever I’d bend over on the left hip.
After this “tweak” carried on for a week or so I figured it was time to whip out my handy dandy dust collecting roller device and begrudgingly fix my issues. As mentioned above, I’d foam roll back and forth on my back for a couple of seconds between sets. The foam rolling was fast and dirty and provided momentary relief between sets, but after performing that first rep I could feel the problem flare up again.
As you can imagine that foam roller did very little to PREVENT the pain I was feeling after my deadlifts sets. Mind you, I’m coached by team 3dmj and have had my form checked quite a few times so while there may be an imperfect rep here and there, overall bad form wasn’t causing my back pain. In the back of my head I knew that the issue was a result of “tightness” and that lack of mobility/stretching sessions I had invested in…but I didn’t acknowledge it until the pain began to effect my daily life.
Sitting began to feel strange and walking did as well. Sitting in a car for longer than 5 minutes was excruciating in that nagging kind of way. As in the pain didn’t really HURT, but it certainly didn’t feel comfortable.
Confronting the Foam Roller
After an extended car ride > 3 hours forced me to sit in dull agony, I decided that when I got back from this vacation that I was going to change my act.
I decided to tackle the issue from both angles…brute force and science. The science = Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance Book and obviously my great foam roller. I locked myself down to 15 minutes or more of foam rolling/mobility work each night for at least a week to see if it helped. Otherwise I was going to need to hire some other coaches to tell me what the hell was going on.
How to Foam Roll
What I learned is that foam rolling is not merely rolling back and forth on a particular spot for 30 freaking seconds. Matter of fact, if you’re doing it for under 2 minutes on a particular area then you’ll likely see no benefit. As Kelly Starrett puts it “Research unquestionably asserts that it takes at least two minutes to make soft tissue change”. Obviously, doing it for LONGER than 2 minutes is going to have a much greater effect. As a rule of thumb, I keep rolling a particular 1-3 inch area until it literally no longer hurts to roll it.
The duration is important, but how you actually perform the foam rolling is even more important. Firstly, don’t go fast like the old me. Reason being is that your muscles will stay contracted and won’t be affected by the foam rolling in the first place. You have to leave your muscles as “limber” as possible so the foam rolling can penetrate. “Go Slow and keep the full weight of your body distributed….so your tissues have a chance to yield” (Kelly Starrett, Becoming a Supple Leopard).
You’ll find that if you go extremely, I’m talking EXTREMELY slow, the foam rolling will get deeper and deeper picking at the knotted-up muscles. You’ll also notice that once you successfully work out a piece of muscle (no more pain) that the pain may shift slightly up or down away from the roller. Imagine the foam rolling like pizza dough. As you press the dough in one direction the bulge moves away from the roller until you roll back and forth over and over again, successfully flattening out the dough…or in this case, muscle.
I can confidently say that I have 0 pain when squatting, deadlifting, etc. aside from the standard “I can’t freaking breath” exhaustion that I feel after an exercise (I’m exaggerating). In addition, I can sit down on long car rides or in my office desk comfortably. I feel more flexible, I feel more balanced, and overall BETTER. I’m now incorporating more mobility workouts from the book I mentioned earlier to improve my lifts, but I’m glad that I’ve healed this issue as far as I can tell.
So….good luck to you and foam rolling! Hope you learned something.