The problem with the dissemination of information is that the further it travels, the more the information gets tweaked and altered based on what people can remember…it’s a bit like the game “Chinese Whispers” we used to play as kids.
We’d all sit in a circle and one person would start by whispering a message to the person next to them. Each person in the circle did the same and when the message reached the final person, they’d say it out loud.
The final message was very rarely exactly the same as the original one – especially if the circle of people was big.
And that’s exactly what’s happened to the practice of foam rolling.
Back in 2008, I learned that foam rolling was to be used as the first part of a 4-stage process for trying to change movement patterns in the body, on the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialism course.
Back then, foam rollers weren’t common place at all.
But now, they’re everywhere. They’re even infiltrating junior squads, with kids as young as ten using them on the side of a swimming pool!
But what started out as a fully fledged process, has been watered down so much that it has become a ridiculous and dangerous solo practice that most people involved in sports and fitness have either heard of, or tried at some stage.
Here’s ten reasons why sports and fitness coaches need to stop including this worthless practice in their sessions immediately:
Reason 1: It needs time dedicating to it
It’s common practice that foam rolling is performed immediately before a training session, but this means taking time away from the session to do it. While some will see this as a necessary evil, most will see it as something they can do at home by themselves. By enforcing this practice before their training starts, you are seriously going down in your clients’ estimations as they often feel like they are wasting their training time.
Reason 2: It takes ages
Rolling one muscle at a time, even for just a minute or two means that in order to cover all the necessary areas of the body effectively, you’d need to be at it for ages. And all this time is being taken away from your clients’ session, which means that it gets rushed, it’s not very effective anyway, and you may as well have saved yourself (and your clients) the effort.
Reason 3: Progress is temporary
Even if you do managed to get some results, the practice of foam rolling immediately before training is a dangerous one because newly mobile tissue does not have the resilience to cope with a full training session meaning that your clients are actually at a HIGHER risk of injury…AND the tightness will return quickly, meaning that your clients will have to endlessly repeat the foam rolling practice.
Reason 4: It doesn’t teach your brain anything
In order for a newly released muscle to stay lengthened, the brain must learn how to coordinate that length with the other tissues surrounding it. Foam rolling does not teach the brain how to do this, or give it time to figure it out immediately before a training session, which must your client at a HIGHER risk of injury
Reason 5: It’s superficial
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a hockey ball, a spiky ball or a foam roller, it’s not possible for an external object to reach the deeper structures of the body, which means that any progress your clients do manage to make is limited. This often leads coaches to experiment with placing the ball in different areas, which can be too close to nerves or organs and running the risk of causing more harm than good.
Reason 6: It needs knowledge
While you client is in front of you, you can supervise their actions and they can benefit from your knowledge, but when they are foam rolling at home, they are free to experiment and that often means going beyond, or even ignoring your recommendations. This is a dangerous practice, for the reasons mentioned in the previous point, and simply by demonstrating the use of foam rollers while they are with you, you are teaching them that it’s a good thing to do and they are likely to continue it at home – unsupervised.
Reason 7: It’s painful
This fits right in with the out-dated, and quite frankly dangerous practice of “no pain, no gain”. Unfortunately, it’s the instinct of every living thing to move away from pain, which means that all the time they’re using the foam roller, their body is trying to tense up against the pain – and that’s the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. This means it takes much longer to achieve anything and if the body is resisting it happening in the first place, it’s most likely that once the foam rolling has stopped, the brain will put the tightness right back again anyway.
Plus, if it’s painful, you client is even LESS likely to want to do it, which brings you further down in their estimations AND is likely to put them off training with you.
Reason 8: It chases symptoms
Perhaps the biggest problem with foam rolling is the fact that it chases symptoms, meaning that it’s very rare that efforts are focused on the areas that are actually CAUSING problems which puts the stability of joints at risk because muscles that are actually being pulled too long but are crucial in stabilising a joint are being forced to let go. This puts your client at a HIGHER risk of injury.
Reason 9: Positions are awkward
In order to foam roll your legs, you have to put pressure on your shoulders – but if your client has shoulder problems that means they either have to adapt their position to something less effective, or cannot foam roll at all – how do you release their tightness then?
Reason 10: Logic will NEVER beat nature!
Foam rolling only ever takes into account the fascia. It forces the brain to release areas that human logic considers problematic. The trouble is, the brain is coordinating TRILLIONS of things in all areas of the body all the time and will only make changes that are suitable for the rest of the structure. By forcing the fascia to release, we are stripping the brain of this decision making capability and imposing changes that may not actually be beneficial to the body at all. And THAT is a ridiculous and dangerous practice.
So how do you improve your clients’ movement if not with foam rolling?
With simple, everyday movements.
Because when you move, you move ALL the tissue, including the fascia and all the deep structures. It’s not painful. It allows the brain to make it’s own decisions and most importantly of all – because THAT’S why your clients came to you in the first place!
If you’d like to learn more about how to transform the movements you’re already using into mobility super moves so that you can help your clients to prevent injury WITHOUT sacrificing any of their training time, I’d like to invite you to check out the SMARTT® Coach Certification course. It will shake up everything you thought you knew about mobility…and then some!