To (foam) roll or not to roll…

…that is the question posed by Ben Greenfield on his Facebook page based on a discussion he found here: http://b-reddy.org/2013/05/20/issues-with-foam-rolling/ .  The article by Brian Reddy certainly makes a compelling argument against it, or more so against only doing foam rolling or to foam rolling in excess.  I think he presents a false dichotomy though.  He points out how foam rolling can’t fix underlying movement problems.  His main points are summarized in big bulleted letters, but I think over-simplifies the argument and creates that false dichotomy:

“The true purpose of foam rolling [is to get out of pain]…”: well not exactly.  It can also be used in the prevention of it as well, along with a whole host of other techniques along side it.

“And why do we get in pain? [because we moved/are moving wrong]”: which is totally true.  So if someone was claiming that foam rolling was what they were doing to correct these things or to put off addressing them in perpetuity, then they are probably misusing this potential tool.

“In order for foam rolling to help alleviate pain then it has to change how we move”: Actually no it doesn’t.  We have to change how we move in the long run, or how we exercise, to avoid chronic pain or continual problems.  However lots of things alleviate pain in the short term when we have already gotten ourselves into a state of soreness.  Foam rolling can also help with movement problems in the same way that stretching and massage can, by eliminating tightness which can limit mobility.

“It fucking hurts”: I suppose if you want to make it a masochistic exercise you could, but I don’t see the point.  It need not, and I would say shouldn’t hurt anymore than a deep tissue massage.  If it is and leads to massive bruising, then obviously they are doing it wrong.  However to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say people abusing it means it shouldn’t be used is jumping to conclusions.  Use it, like any tool, the way it is intended and with proper technique.

“Foam rolling is an exercise itself”: My god who is claiming this!?

He then goes on to show how foam rolling can exacerbate existing muscle tightness if done improperly.  Again, I’m sure you can achieve comparable problems with stretching, yoga, movement exercises, weights, running and so on.

As with anything exercise related, by all means use caution and listen to your body.  Don’t think that a little bit of uncomfortable sensation (like what you’d get in a massage) means that a lot of pain and bruising will be even better.  Lastly don’t think that pain is a regular and necessary part of improvement.  Again, listen to your body, and use foam rolling as a tool among many to eliminate pain or injury before it happens.

 



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