Fit Forever
1BB34097-F786-44E7-9A1A-E8A05C0914DB
Burger
Fit Forever
1BB34097-F786-44E7-9A1A-E8A05C0914DB
Burger
    • Report this story folder
Fit Forever
ic-spinner
Everyone has a story to tell
Find the best stories to read and people to follow. Get inspired and start writing great stories yourself or with your friends. Share and let the world know.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Foam Rolling

The Agony and Ecstasy of Foam Rolling
Collaborate with friends on topics you love
Request co-authorship ▸

Photo: iStock 

I never noticed all the people lying on the floor in my gym and foam rolling themselves like crazy until my personal trainer Vincent made me get on the floor and try it too. Positioning me on my side, he put the foam roller under my thigh, and I started to massage my iliotibial band (IT band). My what? Oh, I had so much to learn.

As I rolled, the mix of pain and pleasure was fascinating. Sometimes it felt like a massage, and sometimes it felt like I was being stabbed in the leg. At one point, he had me pause on the most painful spot and then kick my leg below the knee back and forth. It was breathtakingly painful. “You’re tight,” said Vincent. Indeed.

From there he had me roll all over, and he asked me to do it for at least five minutes before each training session. Glutes. Lats. Hamstrings. Quads. I learned how to roll everything. He advised me to get a foam roller for home, which I did, and ever since then I’ve tried to work it into my workout routine, usually before I do anything else. I consider it part of my warmup, something akin to super-effective stretching. If you want to try it out, just check out a few YouTube videos to see how it’s done. There’s not much to it.

Here are few things I’ve come to understand about foam rolling, one gym trend that truly deserves to endure beyond the usual cycle of hype.

It’s about loosening.

I’m tight. You’re tight. We’re all tight. Foam rolling loosens muscles and fascia and makes you feel more flexible. After a while, by which I mean months, of regular foam rolling, you really will feel more limber.

You can do it anytime during a workout.

I choose to do it before, but you can also do it after or during your workout session.

Take your time.

I’ve seen plenty of people foam roll like speed demons, probably because they find it painful. Don’t do that. Think of it like ironing. Slow, steady, repetitive, up to 30 seconds on each body part that needs some love.

Make it harder.

Once you get the idea, try to make your foam rolling a bit more intense by, say, lifting one leg when you are lying prone and rolling your quads. That will put all your body weight on one quad, and the massage effect will be doubled. Intense! Same thing with your calves. You can roll them side by side, or cross your legs to put more downward pressure on a single calf at a time. Fun.

Choose the right equipment.

The first foam roller I bought was truly just foam, and I didn’t much like it. Later I bought one of the same foam rollers my gym uses. That brand is TriggerPoint, and their products are much more comfortable — and somewhat more expensive — than the plain foam models. They come in two sizes, about one foot long and about two feet long. The two-foot model, which I like, is about $60.

Greatest HITTS: The Power of Interval Training

Greatest HITTS: The Power of Interval Training
Collaborate with friends on topics you love
Request co-authorship ▸

Photo: iStock 

For many years, I fooled myself into thinking that if I spent enough time on the treadmill I wouldn’t age. Turns out I was wrong, and in retrospect I wasted a lot of time — literally thousands of hours — that would have been much better spent elsewhere in the gym or even in the great outdoors, where at least I could take in the sights of the city and get some fresh air rather than get agitated by CNN.

I’ve got nothing against running. Good runners impress me. I have a 50-year-old friend who runs the big marathons and sometimes wins his age class with sub-three-hour efforts that amaze me. But when I told my trainer Vincent about him, he said this: “If you were suddenly trapped under a boulder, your friend could run for help, but I bet he wouldn’t be able to lift the boulder off of you.” His point: Cardio junkies are both fit and unfit. Without some balance, you’re…unbalanced.

Then, when I told Vincent I had been attending two or three spinning classes per week for more than 10 years, he was equally underwhelmed. He felt there was too much sitting involved and that the party atmosphere made spinning a substandard workout environment, but I’ve decided to stick with it, choosing instructors who take it seriously and force the class to work hard.

So yes, cardio is part of your overall fitness picture, but here’s what I’ve learned about doing it right:

Row, row, row: Rowing machines were super hot in the ‘80s but fell out of favor. Now they’re back. Why? Because rowing is an excellent cardio exercise that also works out your chest, back, arms, and legs. It’s an incredibly efficient way to exercise. Proceed with caution, though. Do it wrong, and you may destroy your lower back. Form is everything. Study up, or ask for help at the gym.

Climb, climb, climb: Vincent loved to put me on the Versa Climber, a sadistic device on which you stand and then pretend to climb up a sheer cliff like Spider-Man. I hate it, and almost no one in the gym touches it, but as Vincent pointed out, 10 minutes on the Versa Climber is like 45 minutes on the treadmill, and it really engages your core. If your gym has something like this, try it out. There’s guaranteed to be no wait.

Go for high intensity: The latest buzzy acronym around the gym is HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training. It’s the practice of blasting through a short burst of extremely intense work followed by an equivalent rest period, then repeating many times. I’ve done this in spinning class, when the instructor calls for a series of 30-second sprints, and people do it on the treadmill too. But you can do it with all sorts of floor exercises such as burpees or thrusts.

You can also look into Tabata training, developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata. His plan: 20 seconds of intense effort followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times. That’s just four minutes! You can do any exercise or create a series. Do eight sets of pushups, rest a minute, then eight sets of squats, rest a minute, then eight sets of burpees, rest a minute. You get the idea. You can even download a Tabata timer app that will beep for every interval. My trainer put me through this, and I definitely left a puddle of sweat on the floor! 

You've read the story folder
Story cover
written by
Writer avatar
Don.Willmott
Don Willmott is a New York-based writer focusing on technology, environmental, and entertainment topics.