Why do you keep telling me to foam roll? I’m not tight or sore.

Recovery is just as important as your workout. We’ve been preaching a lot about foam rolling and stretching, but I want you to know why you should be doing it. So listen up. 

Every time you do a lift, you contract a muscle. Take the bicep curl for example. Each time you shorten the bicep to flex the elbow, your tricep is involved as well. It has to have a normal amount of extensibility (flexibility, or ability to lengthen) so that the bicep can fully contract without putting pressure on the joints upstream and downstream – shoulder and elbow. Same goes with the tricep. As you contract it to extend your elbow, your bicep has to be quiet enough to lengthen. 

Let’s take another example, hip flexors and glutes – an incredibly important opposing muscle group and, because it’s so important, can cause a lot of mechanical errors and discomfort all the way up and down when they aren’t synchronizing. When you contract your glute, you are extending (lengthening) your hip. Those hip flexors have to have extensibility for that to happen.

Alternately, when we flex the hip, we’re extending our glutes/hamstrings which, again, have to be able to lengthen to have full range of motion. This relationship is especially important to runners, as the gait cycle requires full range of motion for maximum strength and power as well as staving off injuries in your knees and back.  See the length/tension relationship? Foam rolling plays an important part in keeping those muscles quiet and able to lengthen. 

If we go into a workout with an overactive (tight, short, loud) muscle, it can: 

  1. Make you susceptible to injury
  2. Wreak havoc on your joints, as your muscular system is called to action to move your skeletal system. Illustration: Your pec (chest) muscles insert into your shoulders, so if they’re loud and tight, your shoulder joint range of motion is compromised, as well as your ability to call on the right muscle to do the right movement without compensations. Make sense? 
  3. You’re losing strength and power output on each rep for 2 reasons: 
    1. as stated above, your range of motion is limited 
    2. the knots within the tight muscles create static in your neuromuscular communication, like muffling white noise. If you’re trying to find your glute, it’ll take longer to connect and could result in injury or waste efficiency in reps. Glutes are vital in trunk stability too, so you’re putting your spine at risk.   

The tricky part about foam rolling is that you don’t know you need it until you start digging into the muscle. Or you may notice joint discomfort. It’s easy to feel a tight quad and start stretching it without really thinking about it. That’s good, and it will help in lengthening it, but a foam roll will dig out the knots that create the static. And you can’t really feel the knot until you dig for it. 

This should be happening on targeted muscles daily, guys. Leg day equals leg foam rolling day. Pulling days equal foam rolling those lats and upper/middle back. Pushing and pressing days need those pecs smashed out. Did you rip your abdominals? Try the gut smash. It will take care of some hip flexors as well. https://youtu.be/rspxwuQ6X_c

Make a hulk smash a part of your daily habits. You’ll see progress in your workouts in So. Many. Ways.

Tip shared by Jesse Kepka, NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and owner of Elevate Fitness. Jesse is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

Click for more info on the free Saturday group workout.