If you’ve been exercising for any length of time, chances are you’ve seen or heard foam rolling. For most of my clients, there is a love/hate relationship with this method of tension release. If you’ve ever had a massage before, you know how wonderful and relaxing it feels to work out any kinks or knots you may have. But while foam rolling achieves the same thing, it just plain hurts. I’m selling it so well, right? Well, let’s get into a little bit of science behind why it works, and then outline how it can help not only reduce any pains and aches, but also dramatically help anyone lose weight.
Let me first say that any calorie burning and work is done at the cellular level. Every cell in our body has a certain amount of energy available to it, and can perform only a certain amount of work before it gets too tired to function, and has to replenish its energy. One muscle is made of hundreds, if not thousands, of muscle cells all contracting and expanding together to move us through the world. Think of it like a small army working together to make movements easy and efficient. Put even simpler, many hands make light work.
But if we have knots in a muscle, some of those cells cannot contract, cannot use energy, and cannot be involved in the weight loss process. Even worse, the other non knotted muscle cells have to work way too hard, making them fatigue quickly, making us take rests sooner than we’d like during a workout. Even worse, those cells also have increased risks of injury when they fatigue, and need much longer to rest before we can use them again. Think of it like pulling all nighters for just a few days can lead to even the simplest tasks becoming impossible. In exercise terms, we call that over-training, and this can lead to a weight-loss plateau faster than anything else.
Stretching should help, right? Well, stretching is a great way to stay limber, yes. But think of the full chain of cells in a muscle like a really big rubber band. If we tied a knot into the rubber band, the muscle would stretch, but NOT the cells involved in the knot. Enter foam rolling. By applying direct pressure to the knot, we force just those tight cells to clench hard for about a minute (the pain), and then release their stored tension (the release). Unfortunately, tighter/bigger the knot, the more pain we experience. On top of that, the release may take up to a week of foam rolling every day to fully release the knot. But, the relief for my clients with chronic pain is immediate and sustainable after only a few days of ‘treatment.’
If every cell in the muscle can be used for movement, not only does life get easier, but we have more cells using energy at once, and each movement we do burns more calories! Not only that, but we can perform harder movements, at higher intensities, and even take shorter rests.
So what do we foam roll? Well, the whole body would be nice. But unless you’re retired, or a personal trainer and do this for a living, there’s not enough time in the day (a minute per knot, remember?) For most people, three major muscle groups are really the culprits of most pains, and the biggest muscles that use energy/calories: the middle back, the glutes (butt muscles), and quads (thighs). These three groups need to be free to do not only more work functionally, but when they get tight, they actually turn off other muscle groups (ex: tight quads mean the hamstrings and glutes can’t function well. And a tight mid back means the low back and neck do way more work. Eww back pain!)
I leave techniques for foam rolling to any YouTube video or self experimentation you desire. But bottom line is this: foam rolling means more work in less time, faster weight loss, and a lot less pain.