Stop Wasting Your Time Foam Rolling!

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Stop wasting your time foam rolling!

There, I said it!

But before you start to write me hate mail, or leave a comment below telling me how ignorant I am and threatening my life, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t foam roll (or do other “soft tissue” work).

What I am suggesting, is that many of us don’t take full advantage of foam rolling because we don’t understand exactly how or why we should foam roll, we are uninformed about how to best apply it, or we have tried it and hate doing it because it hurts, so we just don’t do it.

Properly programmed foam rolling can help decrease aches and pains, promote optimal movement patterns and enhance the overall results of a training session and program…so let’s get to it.

What is foam rolling good for and how to do it

A while back I wrote about the benefits of foam rolling and included a short video of how to foam roll.

I would recommend looking that over first, but here is a quick recap on the benefits foam rolling; The the breakdown of scar tissue and adhesions (this is more of a theory), blood flow promotion, enhanced proprioception and when performed correctly, some direct core work.

All of the benefits are great, but there is one more major benefit/concept that needs to be included.

That is, foam rolling helps to “reset” the body. Whether it is by the actual lengthening of tissues, or it is through the mechanoreceptors of the tissues and there message to the CNS, foam rolling helps to reset the body which allows for novel pathways to be established.

What this really means is that foam rolling helps to down regulate the input to certain tissues (helps relax stiff tissues) which can then allow you to better achieve proper activation and of promote better movement  (if you are on a good program and have a good coach).

A better approach to foam rolling: Don’t try and crush it all at once!

During Training

This is where many of us run into a problem.

Like most everything else in life that we think is good, we have a tendency to overdo it with foam rolling. Again, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t foam roll, and foam roll a lot, but most of us end up taking 20 minutes at the beginning of our training session to try and “crush” all of the “knots” and stiffness. It doesn’t work like that!

Oprah is a smart woman!

A better approach would be to quickly address all of the major regions of the body, spending a few extra seconds on our individual “problem” areas, and then move right into the activation and dynamic warm up of our program. This is better for two reasons.

One, we only have so much time to train and if you spend 20 minutes on the roller each session, you are sacrificing valuable time when you could be moving and getting stronger.

Two, moving quickly into the activation and dynamic warm up allows you to best utilize the “reset” that you just performed through the foam rolling.

For example, if you start by foam rolling your hip flexors and finish with your upper back 20 minutes later, when you go into your core or glute activation the transient “reset” of the hip flexors is no longer optimal. With only taking 5 minutes to complete your foam rolling, it is more likely that the “reset” is still present and this will allow you to better activate the wanted muscles and patterns.

Another approach, and a way to take this a step further especially if you have a major stiffness issues, is to incorporate foam rolling between sets of strength movements…like the filling of an oreo, foam rolling can be your sweet middle that makes the cookie better.

Sticking with the hip flexor issue, let’s say you were performing deadlifts. While you are resting between sets of deadlifts, get on the foam roller and roll out the hip flexors. This will better promote a decrease in stiffness of the hip flexors, allowing you to better utilize the core and hip musculature that is wanted during the deadlift (deep core and glutes).

And if you really want to take full advantage of the “reset” and promote better activation and patterning for your deadlift, try foam rolling the hip flexors, hitting a set of glute bridges and then crushing the deadlift.

Lastly, finishing a session with foam rolling, again especially your problem areas, allows you to again reset those areas.

Quick and often throughout the day

Other than incorporating foam rolling into your training program, another way to better take advantage of the benefits of foam rolling is to foam roll throughout the day.

I encourage all of my athletes to roll at least 1-2 times per day (on top of training) and if stiffness is a major issue, I suggest upping that to 3-4 times per day.

Again, this does not mean they should be spending 20 minutes every time they foam roll, because for one, nobody has that much time in the day. Second, I would rather them target the areas that give them the biggest problem, hit it for 30-60 seconds, and follow that up with a quick activation…foam roll the hip flexors and hit a set of glute bridges.

Even if they pick two or three areas, these short burst sequences will take no more than five minutes at a time.

So if you want to decrease aches and pains and promote better performance, I am sure that you can find a couple five minute sessions throughout the day…try it during commercials when you are watching TV, and check out my brothers little girl showing you how its done!


“Wow this hurts…I don’t like it and I don’t want to do this!”

This is often the first thing athletes say when they are introduced to the foam roller.

Well, actually there are a few expletives mumbled under their breath while they give me the stare of death, and that is why I quickly inform them that the more often they do it, the better it will get…I promise!

Three weeks of diligent application later, it is hard to find many of my athletes who don’t love the foam roller and are completely lost if they don’t do it…so just do it!

Roll out…better!

Try applying these methods of foam rolling into your training and reap the benefits of a more optimal application.

Remember that you don’t have to (or can you) fix your stiffness issues in one 20 minute session. It is better to hit it with short bursts throughout the day, and even better to follow that up with an activation exercise that can help cement the “reset.”

So continue to “Roll Out”  but do it with these concepts in mind and enjoy a less achy, better moving, stronger body and save yourself some time.

Minimal Effective Dose

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Do you really want to train longer and harder to achieve the results you are looking for if you don’t have to?

This is a question that 95% of mankind would emphatically answer “Pffff, NO!”, and probably add in a sarcastic chuckle.

While I fall into the other 5% that love the act of getting after it, sweating a bit and feeling like I just got trampled by a heard of buffalo (I just purchased some grass fed bison so buffalo is on the mind), I realize that if we could achieve a healthy, lean and strong body by sitting around all day, most of us would.

Unfortunately for the 95%, sitting around eating “real fruit filled” poptarts watching severely unconditioned individuals getting the crap kicked out of them on latest episode of The Biggest Loser will not help you shed fat, gain muscle or look and feel better.

So if doing nothing won’t help you on your journey to “stud land” (or “studdette land” for the ladies), then training 2 hours per day, 7 days per week and eating nothing but organic free range chicken breast with steamed broccoli is the way to the godlike health and physique you want…right?

Spending more time in the gym than you do with your friends and family and eating strictly lean protein and veggies will definitely jump start the physical transformation that you are looking for, but your joints will soon begin to hate you, your friends and family will become fed up with your obsession, and life will be one dark and lonely venture.

So what is the answer?

Finding your minimal effective dose, or the least amount of effort you need to put in to reach your goals…that is what you need to determine.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t put in the work, but you should be able to work hard and still enjoy life. And the easiest way to do so is determine what the biggest barriers are that are preventing you from reaching your goals (usually concerning nutrition and physical activity), and what amount of training will provide continued progress without burnout.

To illustrate this a bit let’s take a look at a quick case study…my brother.

Over the last month my brother has been busy trying to get his ducks in a row as he is in a transition period in his life.

Because of this, he has not been able to make it to the gym as much as he would like (4-6 times per week) and has only been able to train 1 to 3 times per week. His goals include leaning out a bit and gaining some strength.

With the lack of training, you would expect that he may have ended up losing some strength and gaining a little extra thermal insulation about his midsection (yep, fat!).

So what happened?

He ended up losing 8 pounds and actually gained some strength. But just how was this possible?

My brother is a New Hampshire kid at heart, although he has spent the last 5 years in California as he completed his time serving as a United States Marine (thanks again bro!).

Do to his NH background, enjoying a cold brewsky a night (or 2 or 3) was a common practice. Add a slice or two of pizza to that and he was pretty much kissing his goals of a healthier, leaner and stronger body goodbye, even though he was putting in ample time at the gym.

And now over the last month he has eliminated the adult beverages, cut back (but not completely eliminated) the processed carbs (pizza crust, bread, pasta, etc.) and has trained intensely a couple times per week versus 5 or 6 days. He also went for a couple easy jogs and long walks in the sunny California weather, as well as performed a sprint session every now and then throughout the week…and that was it.

This shows you that by addressing the biggest factors preventing you from achieving your goals (the few bubblies and processed carbs for my bro) and determining the least amount of training that will allow you to progress your physical abilities and results (1-3 full body training sessions with some off day conditioning and sprints in my brother’s case) is all that is needed.

What is your biggest barrier to achieving your goals?

My brother’s little case study is just another good example that if you take care of your nutrition for the most part (staying consistent 90% of the time) and perform a full body training program 1-3 times per week while staying physically active, this is likely all you need to do to get closer to your ideal body.

You do not have to train hard every day and eat strict all the time, just enough of the time!

With that, the best thing you can do to is to establish your minimal effective dose…

1)      Write down a 3-5 day food log to determine your greatest need first, not EVERY need.

2)      Try 1-3 full body training days with supplemental physical activity to determine your training dose.

3)      Remember to live a little, enjoy the foods you like, train hard when you can and stay true to your goals 90% of the time.

Achieving your physical goals, doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. It just has to be enough to get you to where you want to be while allowing you have a good time doing so.

Get Dense!

We have all seen it, and maybe we have even done it ourselves.

Too often a training session becomes a social extravaganza where we waste time discussing everything from the weather outside to the latest screw ups of The Biebs (which recently have been plentiful), instead of getting to work and getting things done!

I am not suggesting that training should not be a time to socialize, as getting after it with some friends can be a great motivator, but taking 2+ hours to complete a session that should last no longer than 45 minutes to an hour is a problem.

Besides the fact that almost every American complains that they are busy and don’t have time, another issue with slothing your way through a session (yes, I know “slothing” is not a word, but I am the one writing!) is that many of our goals rely heavily on the overall stress and hormonal adaptation that is a result of packing in lots of work in a shorter period of time.

How much work you get done in a period of time is also referred to as your training density.

The more dense a session is the higher the stress is on the body, the greater the hormonal response (higher testosterone and growth hormone) and the better the physical adaptations…as long as intensity and nutrition are sufficient (50 sets of power curls in the squat rack don’t count, and you are just being an inconsiderate INSERT EXPLICIT that is strongly disliked by fellow gym patrons).

Do not be these dudes…please!

Increasing training density is a great way to decrease training time for those of us who can only dedicate a short amount of time to a training session or if something suddenly comes up. Increasing training density is also a great way to further enhance hypertophic adaptations of tissues (muscle growth) as well as promote greater caloric expenditure as heart rate will be kept elevated, and EPOC will be greater (excess post oxygen consumption, or how many calories you utilize to recover after training).

**Note: If your main goal is to increase maximal strength/power or acquire a new skill, taking more time to complete the training session, or at least that piece of the session is warranted. The greatest strength/power gains and the optimal way to new skill acquisition is by taking your time and allowing the central nervous system to recover between sets.

But for the rest of us, just how can we increase the density of our training session? There are a few simple ways that I like to do so with my own training, as well as the training of my athletes.

1)      Use tri-sets and quad-sets instead of supersets: Most programs are written in a superset fashion (1a,1b then 2a, 2b, etc.). To increase density try trisets (running through 3 exercises in back to back fashion) or quadsets (4 exercises grouped). You can take your existing program that may contain 8 exercises for example, and instead of 4 pairs of supersets, make two groupings of 4 exercises (1a, 1b, 1c, 1d then 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d).

2)      Go for time: Typically training sessions are completed based on sets and reps. Instead, try setting a time limit and

completing as many sets of your exercises as possible.

For example, say you are performing a deadlift and push-up superset, instead of going for 4 sets of 6 reps each, try to see how

This gives you a training session of roughly 25 minutes (I am including 4 minutes to get to the next exercises) instead of a training session that is based on 4 sets for each superset.

Time is limited so you have to work as quickly as possible! many sets of 6 you can complete in 7 minutes then move on to the next exercises and give yourself another 7 minutes and repeat one more time with another superset.

3)      Go for sets and reps: The opposite of number 2 is to set a certain amount of sets and reps and try to complete them as quickly as possible.

For example, yesterday I performed a tri-set of forward lunges, feet elevated push-ups with chains and feet elevated TRX rows with chains for 5 sets (after a sufficient warm up). I recorded the time it took me to complete the 5 sets, wrote it down and will try to beat it the next time.

Crushed in in less than 30 minutes, including warm up…boom!

Get Dense

There are 3 ways you can increase the density of your training sessions, save time and compete with yourself to further enhance progress and goals.

The next time you find yourself short on time, in the mood to discuss the travesties of today’s youth or simply unmotivated at the start of a session, get after some one of these density protocols and reap the benefits of increasing the amount of work done in a shorter period of time…yes, bigger muscles, less fat and an overall feeling of badassary!

Like this post and found it useful?…Share it with your friends and family to help spread the good word and help others get after it and achieve their goals!

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