Products I recommend: Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller

When you mention foam rollers to people you usually get one of two responses:  “Yeah, those are great!  They make such a big difference” or you get some mumbling and cursing as the person walks away.  Let’s be up front about this, foam rolling can hurt more than fixie hipster trying to ride rollers but it can be extremely helpful in improving scar tissue and adhesions, and improving muscle tissue quality.

Trigger Point Grid Roller

The Science behind Rolling

Using a foam roller is one way to practice self myofascial release (SMR) and is beneficial due to the autogenic inhibition principle.  Autogenic inhibition is when the golgi tendon organ senses that tension within the muscle/tendon structure is becoming too high and to protect the muscle it stimulates the muscle spindles to release, thus lengthening the muscle.  Basically this provides the same benefit as passive stretching but also helps improve muscle pliability, and removes soft-tissue adhesions and scar tissue.  It is possible to get these same results from active release therapy or massage but those can get pretty expensive to do on a regular basis.  Why not just self inflict the pain and reap the benefits at a fraction of the cost?

Equipment

There are a lot of foam rollers out there but the one that I like the best is The Grid from Trigger Point.  It is a hard PVC pipe with a textured foam covering.  The alternating texture on the roller allows you to adjust the relative firmness of the roller.  To have a little more pressure you just roll on the wider grid, to have a little less you roll on the smaller grid. Since the foam roller has the PVC center it won’t breakdown with use and being only 13″ long it travels really well (I know you will want to take everywhere with you once you start using it!).  Basically, this will be the only foam roller you will need to buy.

Click here to get your very own Grid Trigger Point Roller

The How

So now you got the sweetest foam roller known to man, what do you do with it?  A coach or personal trainer can help you  create a customized program but the kind folks at Trigger Point have posted a lot of movements on their website.  Here is also good general sequence provided by Cressey Performance:

It should be noted that there are some instances when using a foam roller would be counter indicated.  I would not recommend rolling on areas that have been recently injured, have circulatory problems, chronic pain conditions, or on joints or bony structures.

Happy rolling!

Efficient or Effective?

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who lived over a hundred years ago, made the observation that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  The further he looked into various events the more he learned that 80% of the results came from 20% of the time and effort.  Or that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.  While everything is not 80/20, that was observed to be the minimum in most cases and in many situations the ratio is even more skewed.   So what does an old Italian economist have to do with making athletes faster and  stronger?!  Good question…

Pareto's awesome beard!

Let’s start by taking a look at how most endurance athletes approach their training.  When we first swing a leg over a bike or lace up some running shoes all we have to do is put in some miles and we start seeing a noticeable difference in every workout.  After a few weeks go by our improvement starts to slow and we figure we need to up the hours again.  After all, if we could just quit our jobs and ride all day we would surely go pro in no time, right?!  So we keep pouring on the miles, training as hard as we can on every ride.  We become very efficient in squeezing in as much training time as we can.  Even adding in an extra hour at lunch and eating at our desks.  And what do we get from all this work?  We get tired…  There is a huge difference in efficient and effective.  We can become very efficient at burning calories and pushing super hard on every ride but if the end result of that hard work is making the 20% of the training that truly matters a sub-par effort, than your shooting yourself in a very tired foot.

Don't do this!

So I can hear what ya all are saying, what is the 20% that really matters?  That is probably the most important question and it varies with each athlete.  What are your goals?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  How long have you been training?  Did you wear parachute pants in the 80s?

Nice parachute pants!

If you are self coached it can take some real soul searching to determine what is the 20% that really matters.  Here is a hint: you know that workout you tried before that you really hated? Yep, that one.  That is the one that you should probably be doing.  We hate doing what we are really not good at and hence, really should be doing.  I am not saying you can’t do what you really want.  Just 20% of the time do the really hard work that makes the biggest impact in your fitness and don’t let the other 80% of the fun stuff jack up your ability to do that 20% really friggin’ hard.

Just Fun…

Since the last post had a lot of words and no awesome photos I thought I would make up for it with a fun mountain bike video taken in Fort Ord yesterday.  The dirt is tacky.  Get on the trails if you can…

Mobility and Stability Questions

After I posted my winter training article I have had a few people email me asking for a little more explanation on my recommendation to do some stability and mobility work in the winter.  Without getting into any specific exercise prescriptions I thought it would be helpful to drop a little more science on the topic.

Basically, for our bodies to work effectively some joints should have good range of motion and freedom of movement (mobility) and others should have significant strength to prevent movement and provide a strong foundation (stability).  For example, hips should be very mobile (especially in extension) and our lower backs should be very stable.  When sufficient mobility exists in the hips it helps our lower back be stable and pain free; and when the lower back is stable it provides a solid foundation for the hips to move.  This is especially important for runners as tightness in hip flexors will pull anteriorly on the lower back causing it to have excess movement with each stride.

 

Typical lower back pain

 

When a portion of the body that is designed for stability becomes mobile it usually results in pain or other movement dysfunction or inefficiencies.  This can also be seen with cyclists as tight hip flexors can cause more lower back mobilty on the bike as well.  To compound this, cyclists are actively using hip flexors through out the pedal stroke to pull up on the pedals on the upstroke which can cause lower back movement if the  anti-flexion muscles aren’t strong enough to resist the pull.

So how can we improve this movement pattern?  By doing a series of hip mobility work and anti-movement lower torso work.

 

Hip Flexors

 

Hip mobility should focus around stretching the hip flexors including the tensor fasciae latae muscle and IT band (extension), and the adductor muscles (inner thigh) at different points of flexion and extension.  Core work should be focused on anti-extension, anti-flexion, and anti-rotation movements.   Note that this is specifically anti-movement work and not the typical crunches most people do for “core work.”  Our lower torso is designed to be stable and training that portion of our body with movements is at best not effective and at worst can cause injuries.  Planks, side planks, and pallof presses are all good exercises to train core stability.

This is just one example in the body.  Thoracic mobility, posterior muscle function (particularly the glutes), and ankle mobility are all common movement issues with endurance athletes that should be addressed to improve performance and comfort.   If you have had pain or overuse issues through out the season a functional movement screen is a good place to start to address these issues.

I haven’t even touched on tissue quality or self-myofascial release techniques yet.  I will drop that science in a future post…