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.

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