Four rules of foam rolling

Running Strength Coach Matt Gagliano shares his top tips on how to foam roll effectively and why we should do it.

As a trainer and coach, I started using foam rolling techniques when I first started training 20 years ago. But I have to admit at the time I had no idea on why I was even adding foam rolling into my clients' programs – most probably because I saw other trainers doing it.

But it got me thinking and researching and - more importantly - utilizing rolling techniques on myself.

Although the research indicates that foam rolling is beneficial, I feel that the studies done have been more about acute performance and recovery versus long term usage combined with corrective exercise techniques.

An example of this is that most studies look at performance when rolling is done before an event like sprinting.

The research indicates that a change in performance after a pre-rolling session isn't great. However, the foam roller shouldn't be thought of as a performance tool but should instead be thought as a tool used to help you perform exercises which allow you to perform time.

It all begins with mobility. If you read last month's article on hip mobility then you have hopefully recognized that mobility must come before stabilization. Therefore, when we know where body mobility is restricted (hips for example), it becomes much easier to design a program that addresses hip mobility in a four- to six-week cycle.

What Does Rolling Actually Do?

Foam rolling essentially helps runners by increasing mobility and recovery.

In terms of mobility - when rolling and spending quality time on any given area of the body that's tight and restricted we are lengthening and loosening the fascial tissue and tendons feeding into a particular area (like the hips or shoulders). If we use physics we can think about the pulling that a tight area creates versus a corresponding loose area. This creates an imbalance and imbalance creates injury.

The key here is spending the appropriate time on the given area (usually more than one minute - which is why yoga can be beneficial for tight tendons - time under pressure). Once we loosen up the tissue in a particular body part we can now add exercises that promote better movement patterns and hence an increase in proper mobility.

This is why screening a runner's movement prior to implementing a strength training program is so important. Some exercises can certainly contribute to a lack of mobility (think of a person doing a chest press with shoulders turned forward and hunched forward).

The other aspect of rolling is for recovery. Particularly after a run or a strength training session, this can be valuable. The process at work here is one of cell regeneration.

By moving blood from the capillaries and bringing in new blood we help speed up the recovery process. There's a neurological effect at play here as well as a psychophysiological effect.

The most important aspect of foam rolling is to actually do it right and do it consistently.

If you're like most of the runners I coach then your foam rolling game routine isn't as good as it could be. Understandable. It can be uncomfortable, and people are often unsure what to do.

I approach every teaching opportunity with the mindset that rolling can become more comfortable (and even enjoyable), and the right techniques are simple and easy to implement.

Rule 1
The first rule of rolling is that it should be uncomfortable because if it's not you're rolling on healthy tissue that doesn't need the love a foam roller provides. It's the gnarly, tender areas that need more attention. But it does get easier the more you employ these methods.

Rule 2
Keep in mind why you are rolling in the first place. Knee pain? It could very well be those tight hips that are adding torque into the knee during each stride. Loosening the slack may very well be the answer to those tight IT bands. Think about rolling areas a joint above or below where you have some joint discomfort.

Rule 3
Use the right technique while rolling. See link below to access my free rolling course to learn how to roll correctly and to add different rolling techniques to your foam rolling game!

Rule 4
Not all rolling needs to be done with a foam roller. Other rolling implements include: stick massager, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, golf balls, medicine balls, voodoo bands.

Rolling out our bodies can tend to be a tough experience (especially where we're tight and stiff, as well as in and around an injury).

I have I included a short video on foam rolling techniques here as well as in-depth videos on how to roll specific areas of your body.

Give it a try!

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