There was a time when I would get to the gym, hunker down on the floor with a foam roller and go to town. Rolling, smashing, pinning, flossing and whatever silly verb you can come up with.
I did it.
And I would keep doing it. Sometimes for 20 minutes. Dig and dig and dig. What was I digging for? Why did it hurt so bad? I was on the verge of squealing. This discomfort must be good, right?
Please learn from my mistakes. Because I have. That’s one of our wonderful capacities as human beings – learning from others.
Here a short list of guidelines to keep in mind as you’re working on your soft tissue work.
If you don’t like foam rolling and don’t do it, don’t read this. That’s a triple negative – still negative. Soft tissue work is not for everyone.
If you don’t like foam rolling and you still do it, read this. You want to get the most out of your time spent lounging on whatever foamy/rubber object of your choice. The market is super saturated with tools for the job, so pick your poison.
If you do like foam rolling… NO ONE LIKES IT. Read ahead.
– Seriously. Don’t freak out. There is no need to dig so deep that you’re in excruciating pain. Work the tissue with enough pressure that its not exactly comfortable, but also not making you lose your composure. I have a friend from the gym who always jokes about taking photographs of peoples faces while they are foam rolling and making a coffee table book out of them. SOMEONE STEAL THIS IDEA!
– Slow and steady is the name of the game. If we move too fast, the nervous system senses danger and will maintain tone/tenseness in the tissue. At this point, you are just spinning your wheels when you’re humping the roller.
– Again, we want to sent the signal to the nervous system to relax and chill the F out. One of the best ways to do that is to breathe. And nice slow breaths at that. I recommend breathing big breaths in and out of the nose. Lets kick in the parasympathetic nervous system if we can (rest and digest.)
– Even if you have to fake it. Smiling MAY even release some oxytocin – a hormone that helps us relax and reduces anxiety levels. If you can’t smile, then you’ve got some issues. Get that checked out. Surely you’ve faked a smile for an unpleasant client or in-law before, no?
EXPLORE MULTIPLE PLANES OF MOVEMENT
– Try rolling an area one way. Then maybe another way. Perhaps…another way? Explore.
– More often than not, I’ll see people on their phone: texting, checking out babes on Instagram, stalking their ex. You know, things. If you’re doing maintenance on your body, be aware of what you’re doing. Building the awareness with your body, whether its through soft tissue manipulation or movement work, will be much more beneficial if you stay aware of what you’re doing. Be mindful, be present.
BE AWARE OF BODY POSITION
– Do your best to maintain some structure of good posture. You shouldn’t be in a pretzel in an attempt to attack a certain area. You may end up causing more problems than you’re solving.
– We don’t want to create the neurological connection of pain associated with a (positive) change in tissue. This goes along with the smiling information from above. The nervous system will respond to pain over all else and disregard any potential and interesting changes happening within the body.
HOLD YOUR BREATH
– Basically what I mentioned before. If you hold your breath, you’re sending an emergency signal to the nervous system and we won’t get the result we’re looking for. Danger Will Robinson!
SPEND HOURS ON IT
– So 60 seconds on your pecs worked for you? No need to go 10 minutes. You’re just wasting your time at that point. Plus you can negatively effect the quality of the tissue with the prolonged mashing.
– How are you going to find what you’re looking for if you’re on cruise control at 100mph? Its too fast to read the signs.
ATTACK AREAS OF EXISTING PAIN
– You wouldn’t stick your finger directly into a wound, would you? Then why would you attempt to direct pressure into an area of muscular/connective tissue pain? More likely than not, you are just going to exacerbate the issue by prolonging the inflammation.
AREAS TO AVOID
– If you’ve hit your spine with a lacrosse ball before, you know it doesn’t feel good. That being said, avoid any other bones if possible. I’m not sure why anyone would preferentially roll over bone, but people surprise me.
– I’m still surprised at the number of people who want to roll out their low back. Sure, there are some methods pinning a lacrosse ball against the wall to hit some smaller areas, but for the most part you shouldn’t roll and attempt to put the lumbar into extension. This area is primarily used for stability in posture and movement.
Other Notes and Considerations:
– The “release” we get is only transient, or temporary. It’s important to lock down this new movement range with some actual movement. Teach that damn nervous system.
– Surely you are doing this for a reason. Check your movement capacity before rolling. Do your rolling. Check again. Did you notice a change? Test-retest.
– This is not the end-all-be-all. It can be used as a compliment to your training. The majority of your time in the gym should be spent chasing your goals, whether thats lifting some iron or practicing your movement. It’s easy to go overboard with this – check yo’self.
– The science isn’t out on all of this soft tissue therapy. We honestly don’t know too much about it. Regardless, it works for a lot of people.
If you’re interested in learning more about the possible what’s and why’s, I encourage you to check out the following article:
While you’re there, check his other stuff too.