A Rhythm in Notion
Small(er) Steps Toward a Much Better World

Foam Rolling for Gold

When I was younger, I used to train without doing any maintenance, a bad mistake. No strength movement should be learned or practiced without also learning and practicing the accompanying maintenance skill.

These skills include balanced strength training, flexibility training, and other mobility training, especially rolling on foam rollers or tennis/lacrosse balls. Kelly Starrett of Supple Leopard fame has this locked down, so I will just mention a couple of points I’ve relearned.

1. Find the Pain, Hurt it More.

Healthy muscle tissue does not hurt, even when pressed hard against a lacrosse ball. I don’t mean muscle soreness from working out (DOMS), injuries, or pressure points. If you feel a little stiff, or just happen to roll across a part that hurts, that’s some stored-up badness that needs to be gotten out.

Roll it faithfully, and it will hurt like hell until it doesn’t hurt anymore, and the muscle will be healthier and happier.

Failure mode: my calves used to hurt after running or walking. Rolling them made them hurt more, so I stopped. I should have hurt it more, breaking up that scar tissue, separating muscle fibers that had bound together into a wooden stiffness.

2. Mine the Vein of Gold

Sometimes, for instance, my elbows hurt after too many pushups or presses, too soon. My tricep feels fine.

If I push very hard, right above the elbow, on a lacrosse ball, it hurts. Little by little, I can work that pain up the tricep. The elbow stops hurting, the whole tricep burns for a couple of days and then heals. I can keep training.

I’m now applying this technique elsewhere. I find the pain, and then mine that vein of pain up and down, spreading the pain, preventing that muscle from stubbornly pushing its problems elsewhere. Again, the muscle will soon feel and perform better.

3. Only a Quarter of an Area at a Time

Failure mode: I used to try to hit triceps, lats, and thighs on the same day. This doesn’t do anything.

Instead, I now focus on just the front right of one thigh for 15 solid minutes. That’s the day. The next day, maybe I hit the front left of the other thigh. The next day, one forearm (maybe two forearms). Then one trapezius.

This sounds very slow, but progress and problems in working out take longer than one might think. For up to six weeks of starting training, progress occurs due to neuromuscular adaptation rather than hypertrophy. You get stronger through skill, not muscle growth. Similarly, problems can take several weeks to show up. If taking the time to drill into one area means you wait a few days to hit another area, that’s all right.

This reasoning supports Kelly Starrett’s saying: you only need to spend 10-15 minutes a day, but it has to be a blood pact. In training, consistency beats heroism.