Sep 27, 2014
Strength coach Mike Boyle trains average Joes, Olympians, and players from the NHL, and NFL, and Major League Baseball. One thing he has them all do: foam roll. "It prepares your muscles for the stresses of the workout, and allows you to perform without injury," he says.
So Boyle balked when he read this recent article on the Huffington Post.
The article lists foam rolling mistakes, including the following:
We're often told that if you feel a knot, spend time working that spot with the foam roller. However, some people will spend five to 10 minutes or more on the same area and attempt to place their entire body weight onto the foam roller. If you place sustained pressure on one body part, you might actually hit a nerve or damage the tissue, which can cause bruising, according to Monica Vazquez, NASM certified personal trainer and USA Track and Field Running Coach.
The fix: “Spend 20 seconds on each tender spot then move on,” Vazquez recommends. You can also manage how much body weight you use. For example, when working your IT band, plant the foot of your leg on the floor to take some of the weight off the roller.
"It's just really bad information," Boyle says. "In fact, the idea of hitting a nerve or damaging tissue is alarmist. I've never seen either occur. Not even a bruise."
Now, Boyle isn't suggesting foam rolling feels wonderful. "It should be uncomfortable," he explains. "The irritation is painful in the short term, but the response is a healing one, not a negative one. In soft tissue mobilization, the tissue is deliberately disrupted in order to produce the exact substances that the tissue needs to heal itself again."
Twenty seconds of knot kneading won't cut it, though. "When you hit a sore spot, you need to stop and work on it," says Boyle. Spending a couple minutes on a knot won't cause damage. If you do it right and you do it often, foam rolling decreases muscle stiffness, and breaks up adhesions and scar tissues that stop your muscles from functioning properly. "Thousands of athletes are rolling every day and getting good results," he says. "Don't be fooled by Internet writers taking a contrarian stance to get visitors to their site."
So how should you foam roll? Boyle recommends rolling the inside, middle, and outside of the muscle until you find a sore spot. Once you do, manipulate the knot back and forth over the roller to release it. Increase the pressure by applying more of your body weight to the roller. You can also flex and extend the joint below the knot. For instance, if you come across a sore spot on your calf, stop, and then point and flex your foot several times.
If this is your first time foam rolling or you don't have a muscular physique, Boyle suggests using a Yamuna ball or a white soft roller. Work your way up to denser objects—like black rollers, lacrosse balls, or PVC pipes—as your tolerance improves.
For more of Boyle's opinion on the untruths about foam rolling, check out his blog post here.