Foam rolling: it’s all in your head?
When I was doing a lot more running last year, I spent a lot of time (and money) visiting my physio. In addition to hyper-mobile joints, somewhat flat feet and pronation, I have a knee condition which throws my knee cap and the muscles and tissues of my left leg out of alignment. So, basically, I’m a physio’s dream – there’s so much to work on, even if I’m not training for something stupidly body-challenging, I should probably take up residence just to sort out the day-to-day mechanics.
Anyway, I ended up at the physio because of a mild calf tear and, among other various exercises and stretches he told me to do, as well as taping me up with some fun pink bio-tape, he started me on a foam roller. They had a standard one at the clinic but I didn’t have one at home, so I headed over to Amazon and before long I had a Triggerpoint roller making itself at home with my other various bands, mats, balls and blocks.
(image from trisports.com)
It was an extremely painful process at first, and getting through even ten reps of the various moves the physio had given me was a slog. But it gradually got less painful and so he added on more reps and made them more challenging and, along with the other exercises, I definitely noticed a difference, not just in improvement in my injury but general ability to run and do exercise without feeling too tight or getting tweaks or pains. I sort of learned to love the pain (or at least to love the results I knew would come from it! I'm not a weirdo ;) ) and now when I feel any niggles of tightness from a workout or training program, it's the first thing I reach for.
So I was a convert. The one thing I didn’t understand about the whole process was that I was supposed to do some of the moves before my runs, not just after. My physio was really insistent on this and, while I get that you need to warm-up and stretch before a workout, I thought that the rolling was to loosen up the areas that you had just tightened (or in my case over-tightened) during the run.
And until I came across this article about a week ago, I still had NO idea why I was rolling out before workouts.
It’s a pretty amazing reason.
What they say is that while, over time, foam rolling can work out ‘kinks’ and post-workout rolling reduces DOMS, the pre-workout rolling is about telling your subconscious to release muscle tension that’s actually psychological. For example, if you’ve been sitting cramped up all day and your muscles feel tight, it’s not a permanent muscle tightening but your subconscious being protective by sending signals of tightness. Rolling out before a workout makes your subconscious ‘let go’ so you can achieve greater range of motion.
What’s good about that? During the workout you’ll be able to develop strength over that greater range of motion than you would have had without ‘convincing’ your subconscious and, over time, you’ll have that range of motion without needing the foam roller.
If I needed any more convincing to do my pre-workout rolling as well as the post-workout moves, I definitely don’t anymore! I'll never stop being amazed at how interconnected not only our conscious but also our subconscious minds are with what we're able to achieve in fitness.
Have you ever used a foam roller? Did you find it helpful or just plain painful? If you haven’t, would you try it now, knowing some of the benefits?