If you’re doing it right, you won’t have to learn how to use this.
Here’s a common question that I get: “Should I buy a foam roller?”
And the answer, of course, is, “It depends.”
For most of my clients, I would say no, they don’t need to buy a foam roller. If they’re sleeping adequately, eating adequately, hydrating adequately, recovering well, and working out within their abilities and function, then there should be no reason to use this “active” recovery strategy.
Foam rollers and other tools of this nature are referred to as “self myofascial release tools”. I first got into these about 10 years ago and they were a game-changer for me. You see, I was sore all the time. I did hardcore, 1-hour CrossFit classes that included mobility work, strength work, and “metcons”. Plus, I did a ton of other workouts on my own, including frequent yoga, long bike rides, running outside in the parks, and lots of calisthenics. I was also eating poorly, sleeping poorly, and stressed-out from work. So, it made perfect sense that my body was all jacked-up and painful.
I would show up at the CrossFit gym 10-15 minutes early in order to foam roll all my stiff tissues so that they’d become pliable enough to allow me to beat them up again with another hard session. I was going so hard, in fact–sometimes two sessions a day–that I decided to invest in a whole suite of myofascial release tools. Now, it wasn’t just foam rollers, it was PVC pipe rollers, lacrosse balls, double lacrosse balls (pictured), softballs, hard medicine balls, tennis balls, golf balls, the tennis ball on the end of a stick, and the Theracane.
It’s no coincidence that during this same period of time I had a lot of injuries. I mean, between a couple of car accidents and several weightlifting/CrossFit injuries, I went through at least one major injury per year for about 8 years! No problem, I had my foam roller so I would be fine.
I hope maybe you’re starting to see the big picture here. The reason I was getting injured and feeling so jacked-up was completely tied to the “just foam roll it and go” mentality that I had. I was doing it all wrong.
My aches and pains–and therefore my dependency on myofascial release tools–didn’t actually go away until I fixed my lifestyle. I had to learn how to chew my food 42 times per bite so that my body would digest and absorb nutrients better. I had to learn how to wind down before bed, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up the same time every morning. I had to learn to drink more water and eat more colorful fruits and vegetables throughout the day. I had to learn how to make my bed every morning and keep the dishes in the sink clean. Most important of all, I had to learn to curtail my exercise activities within reason. I had to align my actual priorities and intentions around health and fitness with daily behaviors that supported my long-term goals. Then, like magic, I no longer needed to foam roll for an hour a day.
I have seen a similar story play out with a large number of clients over the years. Do foam rollers work? Yes, but why do you need them? You’re probably not recovering well enough by your basic, natural, everyday means (such as sleep, food, and water). You’re probably doing more than you should be, and probably doing things you don’t need to be, or have no business doing.
So, before you go and buy a foam roller or amass a collection of self-myofascial release tools, start by reining-in your workout routines, optimizing your natural recovery strategies of sleep, nutrition, and hydration, washing the dishes and paying your bills on time so you don’t feel so stressed out.