Guest post by Joe Hashey, CSCS creator of Powerful Recovery Methods
Foam rolling relies on a technique known as Self-myofascial release (SMR). Our Muscles have a proprioceptor known as the Golgi Tendon Organ. The GTO accounts for saving us from lots of injuries. Whenever a muscle is triggered to the stage of near injury, the GTO reflex transmits a note to seal muscle lower.
Before I explain things further, I’ll throw a bit more technical terms your way – this really is known as autogenic inhibition. The Golgi tendon is essentially supplying your body information and feedback on muscle tension. Autogenic inhibition is really a provision to seal muscles down before they experience more pressure than bones and tendons are designed for.
Without getting too complicated, pressure produced through the foam rolling encourages the GTO and results in allowing the muscle to unwind. The brief relaxation will permit an elevated flexibility and improve tissue quality (Its important not only to have strong muscles, but also flexible ones – specifically for athletes and anybody that really wants to feel good from lifting)(1)
Decreases in soft tissue tension can help revive the muscle’s length-tension relationship.
Allow me to break it further by having an example. The streets within New York and across the nation are filled with after winter pot holes. Each time I’m cruising in my car blaring some “Bringing Sexy Back” I crush one of these pot holes and need to reduce the gas and decelerate.
Imagine just how much better it might be once someone goes out and smoothes the street out and fixes the pot holes? I’ll have the ability to drive more effectively without all of the stops and starts.
Within this example, the street signifies the parts of your muscles and the vehicle represents the muscle activation. Muscle adhesion and the scarring that develops may cause parts of your muscles to unwind (also known as reducing the gas).
To put it simply, foam rolling is a key to bringing the muscle back to it’s healthy condition so it can perform most effectively.
Advantages of Foam Rolling
I’ll use one Integrated Training For The New Millennium by Clark to display the advantages of foam rolling(2):
• Address Muscle Imbalance
• Increase Joint Range of Motion
• Decrease Muscle Tenderness While Growing Joint ROM
• Increased Nueromuscular Efficiency
• Maintain Normal Muscle Length
SMR versus ART
I’ve got a feeling this questions will be asked, so I’ll explain it now. Self myofasical release shouldn’t be wrongly identified as Active Release Technique (ART). ART is usually conducted by a licensed provider and uses hand pressure in order to release fibrous soft tissue adhesion. You will find different amounts of ART including getting the customer to move against the provider’s pressure.
The goals offer a similar experience, only the approach to achieving it’s slightly different.
Foam Roller versus Hands
What is the general preference, foam rolling or perhaps a deep tissue massage? I’d certainly choose the professional massage. HOWEVER foam rollers also commonly known as the “poor man’s massage” for a very good reason. Many sport athletes can’t pay for $80 an hour massages mutiple times per week. I definitely cannot afford that.
The foam roller was produced so large groups (ie workout groups or teams) could receive a few of the advantages of massage yet still make it practical.
Criticisms Of Foam Rolling
I’ve read a couple of articles by trainers who are firmly against foam rolling. Their arguments generally center around the lack of studies on the merits of massage in general and that foam rolling prior to a good work out actually elongates muscle so it’s alot like static stretching.
While I have respect for their views, I’ve had the opportunity to work with SMR since 2003 when it was initially brought to me by my college roommate because he was hoping to enter into the National Football League. I’d recommend you attempt foam rolling and establish your own personal conclusions.
After using one for just two short weeks my mind was made up and I have been enjoying the positive effects ever since. I haven’t seen a reduction in strength as I have with static stretching (amount of general muscle lengthening before pressure is applied) pre-workout. Furthermore research studies (including one conducted in 2008 at Vanderbilt College) have began to appear validating ART and others on SMR.
When and How To Foam Roll
Okay let’s roll (very bad pun totally intended)! Foam rolling is quite simple to do. Go ahead and take the roller, place your body weight onto it, and roll on the desired group of muscles. If the muscle should feel tender – as some areas such as the IT band is going to be from time to time – then make use of your off leg to brace a portion of your weight on.
I actually do light foam rolling preworkout, a full 5-10 minute session after training. Different trainers have various methods, but this works well with me. I additionally take roughly 30-60 seconds per group of muscles when you are performing a complete foam roll session.
Should you hit a place that’s sore, then just apply pressure towards the area using the roller for 30-60 seconds. Don’t roll bruises or acute injuries. Also, for those who have blood circulation problems or another health conditions I’d not advise foam rolling before you consult your doctor.
What Foam Roller To Buy
The harder the more impressive! 100% kidding. Should you with something that is rock solid, such as a PVC pipe, to begin with it’ll HURT your results.
Why? Well whenever you put that type of pressure in your muscles you’ll naturally tense up and defeat the objective of SMR. I am not stating that PVC isn’t an inexpensive alternative for those who have knowledge about soft tissue work, I’m just advocating a progression rather than trying to begin with a rock.
Here are a few better options:
Low Density Foam rollers: These are generally whitened, but I see them offered in most colors at Dick’s Sports. They’re soft and decent to begin with, although not worthwhile for in my personal opinion. They’re so soft they’ll crush within a few weeks and you’ll have to purchase another.
“High Density” Foam Paint rollers: I’ve got a blue one, however they frequently are available in black too. This really is my recommendation to begin with. High density does not necessarily mean super hard. In the end, it’s still foam. This can last a very long time. I’ve had my current high density eva foam roller for around five years and it is still suitable.
PVC Pipe: Real cheap…but real hard. Make certain you mind my warning above and make certain to advance up to it slowly – or at the very least wrap it in something when you begin.
Guest post by Mike Robertson
There are times when bench press training can feel like an exercise in futility.
I’m definitely not the best bench presser to ever walk the face of the Earth. While my squat and deadlift were always quick to go up, I always struggled with the bench press.
With that being said, I’m constantly reminded of a quote from Brad Gillingham. While I may mix up the numbers, the gist of the quote stays the same:
“If you start with a 200-pound bench press at the age of 20, if you only increase your bench press by 10 pounds every year, you’ll be a 400-pound bench presser by the time you’re 40.”
That little quote has always kept me motivated to keep pressing.
But as we get older, injuries start to creep up. It could be sore and achy joints, or the occasional muscle pull. But if we want to get that consistent 10 pounds every year, then staying healthy is key.
If our goal is to stay healthy and bench press heavyweights for extended periods of time, they are three key areas of the body that we must focus on. Those three areas are:
#1 – The thoracic spine
#2 – The scapula
#3 – The rotator cuff
Let’s examine how efficient training of each of these areas can not only keep you healthy, but keep your numbers going up for years to come.
The thoracic spine
The thoracic spine may still be one of the most misunderstood areas of the human body. As powerlifters, we’re taught to rely on the strong muscle of our lower back. However, if our goal is to not only maximize performance, but to minimize injury, we must improve the extensibility of our thoracic spine.
If you watch any elite level bench presser, chances are they have a high degree of thoracic extension, which leads to a solid setup and big arch. If you’re forced to get all your extension from your lumbar spine, you’ll not only lose some of your arch but you’ll probably suffer from low back pain as well!
The easiest way to improve thoracic extension is to drive thoracic extension on either a piece of PVC pipe, or a foam roller. The exercise is simple: lay the pipe or roller perpendicular to your body around the area of your mid back. Once set up, place your fingertips behind your head and pull your elbows together in front of your face.
Gently brace your stomach, and slowly wrap your upper back around the roller or pipe. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, and then slowly work the roller up and down your upper back.
This exercise is effective whether it’s used pre-workout, post-workout, or simply throughout the day to loosen up your upper back. Not only will better thoracic extension spare your lumbar spine, but it will also improve your upper extremity biomechanics as well. This simple tip could be the difference between a healthy body and jacked up shoulders or elbows.
The Upper Back
Once thoracic extension is in place, it’s now time to lay the foundation for a big bench press. In this case, a thick and stable upper back will allow you to maximize your bench press poundage’s.
The key, however, is not only maintaining stability through your upper back, but to build strength and mass as well.
When setting up to bench press, the name of the game is stability. The upper back is crucially important, and we need stability in both scapular retraction (pulling the shoulder blades together), as well as scapular depression (pulling the shoulder blades down).
Basic stabilization exercises such as prone I’s, prone T’s, and prone Y’s may not look like much at first blush. However, these exercises focus on recruiting the appropriate musculature to stabilize our scapula. Far too often, we’re forced to use big, prime mover muscle groups to not only produce motion, but prevent it as well.
Instead, our goal should be to strengthen our stabilizers so they are on par with our prime movers. When we do this, we allow our prime movers to do the job they’re best at – move heavy weights!
Once we build the basic stability with low-level activation and recruitment exercises, it’s time to really focus on strength and muscle mass throughout the upper back.
We know that big, compound movements are ideal when it comes to building muscle mass. However, we need to develop strength both in horizontal pulling movements, as well as vertical pulling movements.
Exercises such as chest supported rows, dumbbell rows, and low cable rows are fantastic for building width through the upper back, as well as strength and stability in scapular retraction.
When rowing, think about pulling through your elbows, and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Dorian Yates used to say that if you can’t hold the midpoint contraction for a second or more, you are simply using momentum to lift the weight. This couldn’t be truer in our case, as a maximal bench-press often lasts anywhere between five and 10 seconds. You need that maximal contraction.
Instead of massaging your ego with ridiculous poundage’s, make sure to use the appropriate muscles, and really focus on squeezing at the midpoint of each repetition.
In contrast, chin-up and pull-up variations are ideal for not only training scapular depression, but also for building our lats. The lats are critical for controlling the weight, as we will use to help actively pull the bar down to our chest when bench pressing. This “active” pulling helps maintain our stability and control on the negative portion of the lift.
Much like the row, we still need to focus on pulling through the elbows to initiate the contraction on vertical pulls. However, at the bottom, instead of pulling the shoulder blades together, we should be focused on actively pulling them downwards. Pavel describes this as pulling your shoulder blades into your back pocket. This is the essence of scapular depression, and it’s something that many trainees often struggle with.
The Rotator Cuff
The rotator cuff is the final piece of our puzzle. While many of us know that the rotator cuff is important, far too often rotator cuff training is quickly forgotten. Rather than taking a few extra minutes at the end of a session to train the rotator cuff, we leave it as an afterthought and figure we’ll get to it the next work out.
Exercises that emphasize the pecs and lats strengthen the internal rotators of the shoulder. To help maintain muscular and structural balance at the shoulder joint, we need to incorporate external rotation work in our programs.
Standrard exercises such as external rotations on the knee, or side-lying external rotations can get us started. However, I also like bigger bang exercises such as face pulls where we not only train external rotation of the shoulder, but we also get some upper back strength/stability as well.
Bringing it all together
One of the best times to get healthy and lay a better foundation is the off-season. Here are some simple tips to help regain structural balance, and put you in an optimal position to start training for your next meet or competition.
First and foremost, start your upper body workouts with a heavy pulling movement first. If you’re used to always pressing first, leading off with a pull-up or rowing variation will allow you to get more out of these exercises. You won’t be as fatigued as you normally are, and you’ll be surprised at how much more energy you have to train these lifts. With my powerlifters, we’ll often do this for the first 2-3 months of their off-season just to make sure we’re putting an emphasis on upper back strength and stability.
Along those same lines, the off-season is an ideal time to place an emphasis on all the little guys such as our rotator cuff, our scapular stabilizers, etc. Remember, the little guys are important for stabilizing the joint, and allowing the prime movers to do what they do best – move heavy weights. If we don’t bring our stabilizers up to par, we’re never going to see improvements in our primary lifts.
Whether your goal is to set a PR in your next powerlifting meet, or just be the biggest bench presser in your gym, the tips above can help take you to the next level.
Take a few weeks (or months) and build them into your next training cycle. I promise, you won’t be disappointed with the results.
About the Author
Mike Robertson has helped clients and athlete from all walks of life achieve their strength, physique and performance related goals. Mike received his Masters Degree in Sports Biomechanics from the world-renowned Human Performance Lab at Ball State University.
Mike is the president of Robertson Training Systems, where you can find tons of free blogs, podcasts, and even register for Mike’s free newsletter.
Mike is also the co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, which was recently named one of America’s Top Ten Gyms.
Review of the Unbreakable Program
You wouldn’t believe the amount of emails I get from people asking me how to manage pain. Honestly it’s not my area of expertise. I kind of just deal with it like most of us probably do. Than I mask the symptoms with ice, ibuprofrin, elbow sleeves and muscle rub. My buddy Dave and I from the gym joke around a lot like we are squirting oil into every part of our body that bends before we start training. I get a kick out of it, but maybe you had to be there.
Anyway, I decided to buy a copy of Keith Scott’s corrective exercise program called Unbreakable. Basically I wanted to know if this would be a good place to refer people to.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you are a bodybuilder or strength athlete injuries are inevitable at some point. When they do happen, not only can they be physically painful, but they can even be emotionally painful too. It’s frustrating to be making gains and then suddenly you’re sidelined by an injury. A common reaction is to take something for the pain and try and “work through it,” which is usually not very effective and often leads to even more problems. Other options like physical therapy-though effective-can be costly and time consuming.
There are alternatives though-in fact, Keith Scott has developed a system called Unbreakable, that he says can help most anyone learn to live pain-free and to do all the things they love to do. He’s spent more than 18 years working in the sports medicine and sports performance fields and developed Unbreakable not only to help people address and prevent physical injuries but to improve overall athletic performance.
After a discussion about how most people deal with injuries by ignoring them entirely or just medicating the symptoms, Keith talks about what he calls the “kinetic chain.” Basically, the kinetic chain is all about how all of our systems are interconnected and how they rely on one another in countless different ways. When one component of the system is not functioning properly it causes a chain reaction that impacts the entire system. This section of the book is incredibly interesting, presenting plenty of information that will be new to most people-including me.
The Unbreakable system is made up of detailed assessments, special fitness program “plug-ins” to correct physical issues, full, specific corrective exercise plans and targeted soft tissue work. There are five basic steps to the program with each component discussed at length in its own guide.
Steps one and two together comprise the assessment portion of Unbreakable. This guide is broken down into body-part sections. In each, you are guided through a series of simple tests and questions. The tests aren’t overly complicated and the process is fairly straightforward and easy to follow. Keith includes photos and step-by-step instructions for performing the tests. Following each test/question segment is an “assessment explanation” section that clarifies the meaning of the results. Step three is where based on the assessment, you determine the appropriate course of action for you.
With steps four and five we learn about the “plug-ins,” corrective exercises. Like the previous guide, this one is divided into body-part sections that correspond with the assessments. The exercises are designed to work together holistically to address strength, muscular endurance, joint stability, balance, power, flexibility, mobility, range of motion and to eliminate pain. The program calls for performing the exercises at least three days a week.
The exercises are presented in daily (day 1, day 2, etc.) charts that give you all the information you need-number of reps, number of sets and the overall benefits of each exercise. The next guide gives you all the information you need to know to perform all of the exercises. Again, like the previous guides this one is broken down by body parts, making it easy to reference. In-depth how-to descriptions and photos are included for each exercise.
All of the exercises presented in Unbreakable are simple enough to do for just about anybody, regardless of skill level or athletic ability. Whether you’re a seasoned bodybuilder, a beginner, elderly or an overweight guy who hasn’t exercised in 20 years, you shouldn’t have any problems performing any of the movements.
The next guide presents a summary of Keith’s 4-phase 16-Week Unbreakable Strength and Fitness Program. The exercises are presented in charts broken down by day and phases with all the information you need-number of reps/sets and the rest period. The guide that follows provides comprehensive exercise descriptions with photos.
Four additional guides complete the package: Soft Tissue Work for Optimal Physical Health, Recovery and Regeneration FAQ Guide, Nutrition Guidelines and Fat Burning with High-Intensity Interval Training. Each of these is well-written, providing plenty of useful information in an easy-to-follow and understandable format.
In my opinion Unbreakable is a good value, well worth the investment. Keith doesn’t knock the need for doctors and doesn’t profess to know more than they do. He sticks to his area of expertise, which is helping people to prevent and manage common minor issues that manifest themselves through aches and pains. He presents useful, practical information that can not only help you to avoid injuries, but to also to improve your overall fitness level.
If you’re sick of the lower back pain, the aichy knees, the clicking shoulders and the rest of the “issues” that come along with the hobby we all love than spending $77 on Keith’s program could be a good investment for you to help get rid of some nagging injuries.
Keep training hard,
P.S. If you do get this program, keep in mind it comes with a membership recurring billing site. You get the first month free which is cool so you can talk to Keith the author directly. You can’t do that when you buy a book at the book store can you?