Thursday, May 22, 2008

Old Dogs...

Back at Hanover High School I had a Latin instructor who said that teachers had to repeat themselves seven times before students would remember what they said. I don’t know where she came up with that number, but since then I’ve heard similar stats cited about sales—you need to hear about something seven times before you’ll buy it, or consider buying it, or even remember the name of the product or what it’s for. Sounds about right to me: there are just too many advertising messages out there begging for our attention for any one of them to capture our interest for long.

So a few days ago I was paging through a new book by fitness wunderkind Eric Cressey called Maximum Strength. In it Cressey opens his chapter on warm-ups by telling us how much sympathy he has for work-a-day dentists, who spend most of their careers exhorting patients to floss, only to have the same stubborn and oblivious patients come in after a few weeks or years with their teeth in need of serious and expensive help. Similarly, fitness folks spend a lot of time telling people to warm up and stretch, but no one really ever does, because they’re short on time and energy and want to jump right into their benchin’ and curlin’, man.

After my fourth or fifth excruciating lifting-induced back strain, I finally saw the light when it came to stretching, and started doing it religiously about ten years ago. But Cressey’s book finally convinced me to try foam rolling, a little pre-workout ritual I’ve been resisting for about six years. I’ve attended seminars on foam rolling, I’ve heard the pleas of uber-trainers Alwyn Cosgrove and Mike Boyle on the benefits of foam rolling, but I’ve never actually DONE or RECOMMENDED foam rolling myself because, well, it seemed like just one more hassle before I was allowed to get to the good stuff in my workouts.

Besides, all that scooting around on the floor doing questionable-looking things with a cushy cylindrical object just struck me as a mile or two too far down the Willing-To-Do-Anything-For-Fitness Freeway.

But somehow Cressey’s dentist-analogy finally got to me, and I started kicking off my workouts with a foam-rolling regimen early this week.

Hate to admit it, but it appears that Mike Boyle, Alywn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, and Mike Clark, who runs the National Academy of Sports Medicine, from which I hold a certification, were all, surprisingly, correct: foam rolling feels great, instantly unkinks muscles, makes your workout, and athletic movement in general, easier. I noticed it when I sashayed myself into my microscopic Ford Escort after I left the gym. As relatively limber and athletic as I am, getting into that car can be a bit of a drag for a tallish, biggish guy like me. Not since I started foam rolling. Suddenly I move with the grace of a dancer.

Well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea. The effects are pretty much instantaneous, and certainly recognizable during your workout if you foam roll thoroughly before vigorous athletic movement.

Who knows what the long-term effects are, but if the acute effects of a five-minute full-body foam rolling session are any indication, I think I’ll have acquired the gift of flight by this time next year.

The humble but surprisingly effective foam roller is part of a relatively new movement in fitness that factors long-term health into the equation, rather than just seeking to shrink a woman to a size two before bathing suit season. There seems to be a much needed crop of smart trainers out there who are realizing that staying healthy and strong over several decades requires a more sophistocated body of knowledge and expertise than just getting in shape for the first time. Just in time, too, because my generation of fitness freaks--the ones raised on a steady diet of Weider-style bodybuilding concepts--are getting a little older. We're feeling a few more exercise-induced aches and pains and we're starting to wonder how we can stay in shape for another 50 years without grinding our joints into oblivion and, ironically, suffering the same, wheelchair-bound fate as our sedentary contemporaries whom we've treated with such scorn over the years.

16 comments:

keelsNH said...

Hi Andrew,
Lurker stepping forward! I wanted to let you know that I think your blog is very well written and both entertaining and informative. Your wit comes across it your writing and I look forward to new entries daily – although lately I’ve come up empty! Thanks for jumping back into again. Now on to the questions at hand…

I have been reading on multiple websites about the foam rolling as well. Although it’s been touted as the new “cure-all”, I’ve been reluctant to try for various reasons. Time (who can extend their time in the health club more?), ignorance (it can’t be as simple as they say), and fear of looking…well…silly. I already get looks for doing squat jumps and deadlifts. What will they think when they see me doing this??!! I instituted a pre-workout warmup using jumping jacks, dynamic stretches, and a bar-only complex and although it only takes about 10 minutes, I feel ready to go after it. Plus {knocks on wood}, I haven’t experienced any of those nagging shoulder or back tweaks since. So maybe it’s time to try rolling…or maybe your blog is the 7th time I’ve heard about it…I don’t know. Did you find it easy to do? Did you do it pre or post workout? You mentioned it only took 5 minutes. Do you have a recommended routine to hit full body?

Thanks again for the blog and thanks for the info. Who knows, maybe this will be the time I commit to buying a foam roller. I can just see the regulars at the health club now…

Andrew said...

Thanks for the comment, Keel!

As only a recent convert to foam rolling, I'm probably apt to overstate its usefulness. I do notice, however, that I feel better, more flexible and mobile, and less sore--all well worth the 5-7 minutes I've been taking to do the mini-workout. Cressey and other have cited the foam roller as a tool that helps with long-term health and fitness, and as a 37 year old, that's where my head is at.

So I definitely think it's worth the few minutes it takes to rip through a foam-rolling workout. I've been doing it at the beginning of my workouts--seems like a good way to wake things up--but I've heard of people doing it afterwards and even before AND after.

I wouldn't, however, dispense with the dynamic flexibility drills you're doing--those are proven useful as well. But I think 10-15 minutes of combined foam rolling and flexibility work is plenty, and once you're proficient at rolling (it takes some getting used to), you can burn through it pretty fast.

As for the "looking silly" thing, well, I agree, and that's why I have a roller at home and crank through the exercises before I leave for the gym. Usually, however, I take it as a good sign if I'm doing things that others aren't in the gym.

There are plenty of resources for foam roller workouts--probably some online. Cressey's in MAXIMUM STRENGTH is good, but I remember seeing some good recommendations in the NASM textbook as well. Basically you want to roll out all major muscle groups, paying particular attention to front, back, and sides of the legs, and the thoracic spine area.

Have fun and thanks again for the comment

Andrew

Andrew said...

Thanks for the comment, Keel!

As only a recent convert to foam rolling, I'm probably apt to overstate its usefulness. I do notice, however, that I feel better, more flexible and mobile, and less sore--all well worth the 5-7 minutes I've been taking to do the mini-workout. Cressey and other have cited the foam roller as a tool that helps with long-term health and fitness, and as a 37 year old, that's where my head is at.

So I definitely think it's worth the few minutes it takes to rip through a foam-rolling workout. I've been doing it at the beginning of my workouts--seems like a good way to wake things up--but I've heard of people doing it afterwards and even before AND after.

I wouldn't, however, dispense with the dynamic flexibility drills you're doing--those are proven useful as well. But I think 10-15 minutes of combined foam rolling and flexibility work is plenty, and once you're proficient at rolling (it takes some getting used to), you can burn through it pretty fast.

As for the "looking silly" thing, well, I agree, and that's why I have a roller at home and crank through the exercises before I leave for the gym. Usually, however, I take it as a good sign if I'm doing things that others aren't in the gym.

There are plenty of resources for foam roller workouts--probably some online. Cressey's in MAXIMUM STRENGTH is good, but I remember seeing some good recommendations in the NASM textbook as well. Basically you want to roll out all major muscle groups, paying particular attention to front, back, and sides of the legs, and the thoracic spine area.

Have fun and thanks again for the comment

Andrew

Andrew said...

Thanks for the comment, Keel!

As only a recent convert to foam rolling, I'm probably apt to overstate its usefulness. I do notice, however, that I feel better, more flexible and mobile, and less sore--all well worth the 5-7 minutes I've been taking to do the mini-workout. Cressey and other have cited the foam roller as a tool that helps with long-term health and fitness, and as a 37 year old, that's where my head is at.

So I definitely think it's worth the few minutes it takes to rip through a foam-rolling workout. I've been doing it at the beginning of my workouts--seems like a good way to wake things up--but I've heard of people doing it afterwards and even before AND after.

I wouldn't, however, dispense with the dynamic flexibility drills you're doing--those are proven useful as well. But I think 10-15 minutes of combined foam rolling and flexibility work is plenty, and once you're proficient at rolling (it takes some getting used to), you can burn through it pretty fast.

As for the "looking silly" thing, well, I agree, and that's why I have a roller at home and crank through the exercises before I leave for the gym. Usually, however, I take it as a good sign if I'm doing things that others aren't in the gym.

There are plenty of resources for foam roller workouts--probably some online. Cressey's in MAXIMUM STRENGTH is good, but I remember seeing some good recommendations in the NASM textbook as well. Basically you want to roll out all major muscle groups, paying particular attention to front, back, and sides of the legs, and the thoracic spine area.

Have fun and thanks again for the comment

Andrew

keelsNH said...

Wow. 3 responses. Your almost 1/2 way to the magical 7 times!!

At 42, that's where MY head is at too. I am more concerned about keeping up with the 3 kids than my athletic prowness. I tend to get overwhelmed searching for suggestions from MAXIMUM STRENGTH or some publication like that. I need a cup of knowledge to start out with and these books tend to provide it via a fire hose. I get confused and call it a day. I'll Google it for a bit and see if I can find a "Foam Rolling for Complete Idiots" like site! Thanks again...

Jim

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, please share you results here with us, all the other idiots :-)

keelsnh said...

Idiots unite!!

http://www.performbetter.com/catalog/matriarch/MultiPiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_91_A_PageName_E_ArticleMyofacialRelease

Andrew said...

The link you sent to the article by Mike Clark is generally good. To the list of rolling-sites suggested in the article, I would add the thoracic spine, pectorals and calves.

I don't know Dr. Clark's current thinking on this topic, but I would also say in passing that the notion that it's important to perform the "drawing-in" movement during all kinds of exercise has more or less been discredited. In this humble blogger's opintion, you are now free to let your bellies hang out.

Andrew

Rob W. said...

Hey Andrew - I've been reading your blog for the past year or so and really enjoy it. I picked it up when you had a guest-blog for Alwyn Cosgrove.

Just a quick note on the foam rollers - I live in Phoenix, AZ and went to a Suns basketball game this past season. Saw a bunch of the NBA guys using a foam roller on the court as part of the pre-game ritual. From what I've heard, the Phoenix Suns have a well-respected conditioning program. (if we can get Shaq in shape, isn't that evidence enough of a quality program)

As for myself - I have a foam roller at home (my wife is an NASM cert. trainer) and I still find ways to NOT use it.

Again, I really appreciate the blog.

Rob

wtfree3 said...

Eric Cressey gave away at least the techniques in a t-nation article a few years ago. You can find that article here: http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=475832.

I don't do this as often as I should - usually only after a workout, and often only when I'm tight. And I must say - I REALLY(!) hate rolling the IT band. That's torture that may not be allowed by the Geneva Convention.

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