How, When, Why to Foam Roll For Strength Training?
March 29th 2019
How long should you foam roll for strength training?
You can foam roll for about 5-10 minutes before a workout in order to massage your muscles and bring blood to them to reduce the risk of injury and to speed up your rate of recovery.
For a long time, we always hear these terms being thrown around in the gym but we do not exactly know what they are or its true purpose. Foaming rolling and myofascial release are two terms that are usually coined together. But are they really connected?
In 99% of the articles on the web, lifers, gym enthusiasts, and even some health professionals will say that foam rolling is a self-myofascial releasing device that will help you break up muscle knots and adhesions. They will even reference how tight they were before they started to foam roll and after a few days, they claim their recovery and performance has improved, thanks to some aggressive foam rolling.
While I do not neglect the benefits of foam rolling, there is something we need to clarify. That is, foam rolling is not a myofascial release.
Why typical foam rolling is not myofascial release
Almost all of the foam rolling you see in gyms are not myofascial release. Really, it looks like a light skin massage or a gentle rub.
Here is why. With foam rolling, you are compressing the skin and sliding the foam roller across your skin. With these two motions alone, you are not doing any myofascial release. The foam roller does not grab onto your skin and moves it into the direction you want it to move.
In myofascial release done by specialists, including massage therapists and physical therapists, compression, combined with tension and movement are the three ingredients needed for myofascial release. This way, with external forces, your body is able to break its old restrictive movements patterns by breaking all the scar tissues and adhesions in between the skin and muscle.
What is myofascial tissue?
Myofascial tissue, typically known as the fascia, is a long, strong, fibrous tissue that extends throughout the entire body to provide support and protection for our muscles and bones. The fascia is made of collagen and elastic fibers, arranged in a web-like structure. They are one continuous structure, going from the top of your head to the tips of your toes on your feet.
Collagen is one of the main structural proteins used many connective tissues in the body, the fascia being one of them. It is so abundant in the body that it makes up 25-35% of the total protein count of the body. Collagen is made up of amino acids that form a triple helix.
There are two types of myofascial tissues we would want to discuss- the fascia superficialis, which is used to cover entire muscular regions, and the fascia profunda, which covers individual muscle fibers, tissues, and individual units.
Healthy myofascial tissues are soft and relaxed, yet durable and elastic. However, when trauma, illness or inflammation occurs, this can disrupt the myofascial tissues, making them rigid, tight, and full of “knots.” These adhesions and tensions can cause restrictions in mobility and function, which lead to the development of trigger points. These trigger points can cause multiple pain areas across the body. As a result, headaches, chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, shoulder restrictions, reduced flexibility and trouble breathing may all be signs of issues with the myofascial tissues.
Here is one way of seeing how the fascia superficialis works - take your finger and try to pull your forearm skin upward. You will notice that your skin will not be able to move after some gradual movement. This is when the fascia superficialis is at its tensest, which means you cannot move the skin anymore. When fascia tissue becomes abnormal, you can see this in the form of scar tissues. You could also see that interlayer restriction, which is the fascia on top of the muscle becomes restrictive, or intralayer restriction, where the fascia profunda between the muscle cells are restrictive.
What is myofascial release?
Myofascial release is typically a hands-on technique that massages the myofascial tissues to eliminate pain and restore movement. Gentle sustained pressure is used in this technique to not retraumatize the body.
Myofascial release refers to the breaking down of aberrant fibrosis, scar tissue or adhesions, in between the skin and muscle (the myofascial superficialis) or in between the muscle cell units (the myofascial profunda).
Did you know that when you develop myofascial restrictions, whether, from surgery, trauma, illness or inflammation, the myofascial tissue can create pressure upward to 2000 pounds per square inch (psi). To get an understanding of how intense this pressure can be, this is more than the water pressure at the core of a nuclear reactor. This is a great feature, knowing our ultimate strength. However, when used for destruction, it can cause us a world of pain.
Difference between fascia and muscle
While muscle attaches and ends at certain parts of the body, the fascia runs throughout the entire body. The fascia is a web-like structure that surrounds and connects all the muscles, nerves, bones and blood vessels in the body.
I am sure you felt the phenomenon. You felt some lower back pain. Obviously, the most logical thing to do is to stretch your back, specifically your mid or lower back. You would think that bending and stretching your back would directly help. But if you have given your symptoms more thought, you may discover the following.
You have been sitting at your job and at home, for more than 14 hours a day. Your posture is poor because you are at a desk job. But your back is the only thing that is bothering you, for now. You may find that stretching your hips or even your shoulders will bring relief to your back. Personally, I have done that and as soon as my hips and shoulder began to relax, my back would also be relaxed. Why is this the case? Is it magic?
Your body is extraordinarily complex and is highly integrated. This is one reason why symptoms are usually not from one event or issue. Multiple cascading issues created and chain reaction in your body. Because your body could not handle all the bad effects, they have been exposed which is causing you pain.
What does foam rolling actually do in strength training
1. Help your muscles relax
Neurologically, it helps you relax your muscles. Rather than having someone else or you use energy to compress your muscles, you allow gravity and the foam roller to do that for you.
This is one reason why foam rolling is painful at first. After a few days, the pain gradually subsides.
2. Increased blood flow
Studies show there is blood flow increased with foam rolling, measured directly after and 30 minutes after experimentation protocols. Experiments like these are beginning droplets for a major breakthrough into what is possible for recovery devices in strength training.
The foam rollers show huge potential in warm-ups, where blood flow elevation is desired to reduce the risk of injury, and in cool-downs, where blood flow elevation is desired to speed up the rate of recovery.
How should you foam roll for strength training?
Place your foam roller on your targetted muscle part. Then, find an area of tension. Once you found a tensed area, keep the foam roller on that spot for 30-45 seconds and repeat for 2-3 sets.
What most people are doing with foam rollers is not doing anything. Keeping the foam roller where it is painful is a step in the right direction. Make sure to concentrate on that spot, taking in deep breaths so that you do not develop any abnormal or tense breathing patterns.
Should foam rolling be painful?
Foam rolling should feel a “good kind of pain” when applying firm pressure to a muscle area. Foam rolling should never be sharp, abrupt pain. After foam rolling, you may experience some relief in the targetted area.
Like everything in life, there should be a balance. You must understand the limits of your pain tolerance and work accordingly. If you enjoy a bit of uncomfortable pain, this is great for helping you relax your muscles when you continue to do deep breathing while foam rolling.
Does foam rolling work?
Foam rolling works in helping you relax your muscles and to improve blood circulations. Foam rolling does not help you break up muscle knots and adhesions since it does not have the material properties to thoroughly grip your skin.
Again, this is another ambiguous question for the web. Some lifters will claim that it helps. Some will say it does not. Many other forums and websites will go in the middle and say they do not know but they have some “acceptable” theories. What we are here to do is to clarify these mysteries and to make sure you get the appropriate information available for you to learn from and expand upon.