….but mostly roll. Mildly amusing pun aside, one thing that you should add to your warmup (not just with workouts, but with sports as well) is soft tissue work, otherwise known as “rolling out”.
Everyone knows that stretching is important. Muscles need to be flexible to perform optimally, and also avoid injury. When we push our muscles to the limit, as we usually do in any physical activity, we are creating microtears in those muscles, essentially breaking them down. One of the effects of this process is decreased blood flow to the damaged area, which is obviously not helpful when we want to build those muscles back up. In order to increase blood flow back to these beat-up muscles, you apply pressure (foam roller) and heat (generated from movement on foam roller). This helps the repair process, and also helps alleviate the pain and soreness you may have from strenuous activity.
The good news is that foam rollers are relatively cheap or, if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, easy to make. Here are some basic soft tissue exercises, courtesy of Eric Cressey:
-Quads: “Set up on your forearms with the top of one thigh on the roller. Slowly roll back and forth from the upper thigh down to where the quadriceps meets the kneecap.”
-IT Band: “Lie crosswise like a human teeter-totter on the foam roller, which should be positioned underneath your outer thigh about an inch below the hip bone. Use the forearm of your downside arm and the hand of your topside arm to pull your body forwards so that your outer thigh slides across the foam roller all the way down to the kneecap. Now slide back in the opposite direction.” I will warn you, this one will be extremely uncomfortable for those of you who haven’t done it before. Stick with it; it’ll get loads easier as you progress, and you’ll feel better in your training and overall.
-Hip Adductors: “Lie face down on the floor with your hips opened up, so your inner thighs face the floor. Begin with the foam roller pinned between the upper thigh and the floor. Pull your body along the floor with your forearms to slide your inner thigh over the foam roller from just short of the groin all the way down to the inside of the knee. Now slide back in the other direction.”
-Thoracic Extension: “Sit on the floor with the roller behind you, positioned perpendicular to your body. Keeping your butt and feet on the floor, ease back to the roller so that it’s positioned about an inch below the base of your shoulder blades. Lightly grab the back of your head with your hands, and pull the elbows together. Keeping your chin tucked, extend back as if you were trying to touch the back of your head to the floor. After a pause at this position, return to the top position, and then slide the roller a bit higher up on your back and repeat.”
-Lats: “Lie on your side with the roller positioned perpendicular to your body and “jammed” in your armpit, with your arm extended as though you’re swimming the sidestroke. Roll from the point where the lat attaches to the upper arm all the way down to the base of the shoulder blade.”
As a general rule of thumb, do these movements very slowly. It should take you 20-25 seconds on each, and you should get 2 or 3 back-and-forth slides in that time. If you find a particularly tight spot, take even more time and focus on that spot. It will hurt, but it’ll help you in the long run.
Three other exercises Eric Cressey recommends are also soft tissue work, although not with a foam roller. Using a lacrosse ball is great for targeting smaller muscles and applying greater pressure to a specific area. Here are three that have really helped me:
-Glutes: “Sit on the ball with your right cheek and cross your right leg over your left. Start by working on the outside portion of the glutes, and then move upward and toward the midline.”
-Calves: “Simply sit on the floor with the ball underneath one calf, apply some of your body weight to the ball, and knead the tissue by moving the calf up and down to hit three spots: inside, outside, and down by the Achilles tendon.”
-Infraspinatus: “Lie on your side with the ball pinned between the floor and the back side of your shoulder near your armpit. Use small movements to knead the flesh in this area.” For most of you, this one will hurt. A lot. It did for me, because my shoulders were so tight. I would have to stop every few seconds in the beginning and scream like a little girl, drawing not-so-nice looks from the guys in my gym. Seriously though, stay with it, bear down, and it’ll pay off. I can do this one easily and pain-free now, and it didn’t take that long.
This all might sound pretty silly, and I’ll be the first to admit that I agree. I did feel like an idiot the first time that I walked into the gym with my bright orange foam roller. Now, though, I’m convinced it’s helped my performance, and moreover, I feel better. Thus, I recommend it to all. And to all a good night.