Using a foam roller to improve movement

David Younkins Articles, News/Main, Updates

We see people in gyms foam rolling all over the place, and it’s great!  There’s little wrong with foam rolling, and while there’s some evidence that it can improve joint range of motion without a decrease in performance,  we want to make sure we are doing it intentionally since some of you might feel a bit like this from time to time.

The two main ways that we can improve our rolling during training are Technique and Application.

When it comes to technique, let’s remember the muscle spindle. This tiny structure within muscles tends to cause the muscle to contract when stimulated and is sensitive to changes in length and, more specifically,  FAST changes in length. This is why the doctor taps your knee with a hammer quickly rather than gently pressing the hammer into your knee – quick movements engage muscle spindles and cause muscles to contract more.

What does this mean?  It means you should roll the affected area slowly and deliberately so that you do not further tighten the muscles underneath (unless your goal is to “wake up” a muscle group with quick rolling). This is also why generally I move my hands slowly when trying to massage a tight area since the goal is to relax the area and improve mobility around the joint(s).

A safe technique to ensure you are moving slowly enough is ischemic compression. Simply find a tight/tender spot and rest on it with the foam roll underneath you and put pressure on that spot for 10-30 seconds.  Ensure that you are breathing and focusing on exhaling all the way out. Once you feel the tender area “release,” move on to the next spot.

The second piece of advice for foam rolling is application.  Where should you foam roll and why?  Where you focus your foam rolling can be determined by simply finding tender points, but we can also do it more scientifically.

Do a test-retest.  

– Look for an area of mobility restriction, foam roll the area, and then test mobility right after. If it didn’t help, then either the technique should be changed or that’s not the primary cause of the problem.

– Do the same for a painful area. If a movement is painful, roll around the area (above and below the areas in question), release any tender points, then retest the movement.

Here are a few examples:

1. Do you have kneecap related stiffness/discomfort?  Test presence of discomfort with a squat. Then, roll lateral quads/IT Band. Retest squat. If you still feel discomfort, repeat 1-2x.If still not resolved, look into other causes of discomfort.

2. Do you have limited upper back movement? Maybe restriction in your overhead squat/snatch? Try testing your upper back rotation. Then, using the foam roll, self-mobilize your thoracic spine, and retest your upper back rotation or your overhead squat. If you still feel restricted or stiff, repeat 1-2x. If still not resolved, look into other causes of stiffness.

Schedule a time with me if you’d like to have a skilled touch to assist in resolving tender points and mobility restrictions.

Also, feel free to shoot me an email with questions.  

See you at RVAPT!

-David