Based on the motivation of the individual, there are three types of people in the calisthenics community:
- The ones that have a hard time motivating themselves.
- The ones that have total control on their motivation.
- And lastly, the ones that are over-motivated and can’t stop training.
For the most part of my training years, I have been into the third category (probably due to watching too many inspiration videos).
This has led me to search for ways to train more and more all while avoiding overtraining.
Based on my research and my own experience, one of the best ways to avoid overtraining is to spend more time/attention on recovery.
As someone said (don’t know the exact source):
There is no such thing as overtraining, only under recovery.
During my research, the first thing that I learned was that your recovery rate is highly influenced by your lifestyle choices. As soon as I read that I started to take immediate action on my lifestyle. I gradually took care of my nutrition, I became an early riser, etc.
However, despite the noticeable improvement in my recovery, that wasn’t enough. I still wanted to train more.
Then I learned about a tool called the foam roller.
I started using it religiously and… voila!
My recovery speed didn’t only increase exponentially, but I was also started to move more fluently and some aches and pains that I used to have disappeared!
Foam rolling became my favorite method for recovering faster from my workouts.
Now, even though I have more control over my motivation, I still want to train a lot (sometimes twice per day) and foam rolling is one of the main reasons I am able to do so.
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is very simple and easy to do. You just put the foam roller on the floor (or any other surface) and roll over it with the muscle area that you want to focus on. The pressure applied is going to be based on your bodyweight.
In the beginning, foam rolling is going to feel a little painful, but you can adjust the pressure by supporting your bodyweight with your arms or legs. Also, after the first few sessions you might feel a little sore in the muscle areas you have worked on.
It might take a while to start noticing results, but if you stay consistent with it, they will certainly come (usually in 1-3 weeks).
Benefits Of Using A Foam Roller
When I first heard about foam rolling I was skeptic about its benefits and effectiveness.
After all, it was kind of painful and I had a hard time seeing how it can help me recover faster.
Now, after foam rolling for several years I can clearly see that it doesn’t only help you recover faster but it also has numerous other benefits.
Here are some of the most important foam rolling benefits:
Benefit #1: Get Rid Of Aches & Pains
A great and unexpected benefit that resulted from foam rolling was that some pains and aches that I had for years started to disappear.
All of these came while I wasn’t even focusing on that issue.
What I didn’t know was that most of the pain was caused by muscle knots and all I had to do was to release the tension in these spots.
When I saw these changes, I began to do more foam rolling with the intention of relieving pain in different areas and gradually I was able to move completely pain-free.
Note: Even though foam rolling can be effective in relieving pain, it’s not a panacea and you should consult a professional before attempting to use it for that purpose.
Benefit #2: Have More Energy Throughout The Day
This was another unexpected side effect.
Tight muscles require energy to stay tight. By releasing the tension and relaxing them, all of that energy becomes free. As a result, you are going to feel a lot more energetic during the day.
Benefit #3: Sleep Better At Nights
Foam rolling is also going to help you sleep better during the night.
I don’t know if this happens for everyone, but it certainly did for me.
Having a short foam rolling session 30-60 minutes before sleep can help you have a more restful night.
Benefit #4: Increase Range Of Motion
By releasing the muscle knots and tightness from your muscles, you are going to be more mobile and flexible than you used to be.
And the most important thing is that you are most likely going to move pain free in that new range of motion.
Benefit #5: Injury Prevention
By keeping your muscles supple, they are less likely to get injured during your workouts.
Foam Rolling Vs Stretching Vs Mobility Drills
Todd, I already use stretching and mobility drills to recover faster, why should I consider using a foam roller as well?
This is the case with foam rolling too.
Even though foam rolling has many benefits similar to those of stretching and mobility exercises, it’s still a different method with a completely different focus.
Let me be a little more detailed.
Foam Rolling Vs Stretching
The main focus of stretching is becoming more flexible, while the main focus of foam rolling is releasing built up stress.
By releasing tightness foam rolling can help you become more flexible as well, however, it won’t help you achieve advanced flexibility feats (like the splits) no matter how much you foam roll.
On the contrary, stretching can also help you relax tight muscles, but it’s not as precise and effective as foam rolling is.
Foam Rolling Vs Mobility Exercises
Similarly to the previous section, the main difference between these two methods is their focus.
The focus of mobility drills is to help you become more mobile and to move better.
Foam rolling is going to help you move a lot better and in a pain free way, but it won’t be as effective and fast as mobility drills and won’t help you build strength and control in extreme ranges of motion.
As with stretching, mobility exercises aren’t as effective in releasing tension as foam rolling is.
As you can see each method has its own benefits and main focus. For the best results, you can use all of these three methods.
Foam Roller Variations & Other Tools
As I mentioned previously, a foam roller is a tool used for self massage and specifically for self-myofascial release (SMR).
Even though this article is going to be focused mostly on the use of foam rollers, you should be aware that other effective tools exist as well.
In this section, I am going to introduce you to some of the most common ones.
In addition to that, as you become more experienced with foam rolling, eventually you are going to need to progress to a higher level. This can be done by using a firmer foam roller (even if it’s hard to believe, eventually your foam roller is going to feel “soft” after a while).
Some of the different tools for SMR are:
- The high density foam roller
- The rumble roller
- The grid foam roller
- The lacrosse or tennis ball
- Massage sticks
- mobilityWod gemini
Based on my experience I would suggest you purchase a very hard roller even if you are a beginner since you can easily adjust the pressure. This way you won’t have to buy a new foam roller every once in a while.
How To Foam Roll
Using a foam roller is very simple and intuitive.
All you have to do is put the muscle that you want to work with on the foam roller and then roll on it.
If you feel that it’s really painful, you can decrease the pressure by supporting some of your weight with your arms or legs (depending on the exercise).
There are two ways to massage your muscle with the foam roller.
You can either roll back and forth on the muscle or stay still and apply the pressure at a specific trigger point for 30-120 seconds.
You can employ both of these methods by rolling over the muscle and stopping whenever you find a tight spot. You know that you have found a muscle knot when it’s more painful than usual.
In addition, you should be as relaxed as possible during the whole practice (breathing deeply is really helpful). If you can’t keep a straight face because it hurts too much, then you are applying too much pressure and you should tone it down.
As you become more advanced you can start incorporating movement during the massage by flexing and extending the muscle your are working on.
Lastly, you should roll back and forth in a slow pace. The rolling speed should be similar to someone massaging you.
Foam Rolling Exercises
Foam Rolling For The Upper Body
In this section, you are going to find how to target the different muscle groups of the upper body.
How To Foam Roll The Upper Trapezius (aka upper traps)
Low Trapezius (aka low traps)
How To Foam Roll The Rhomboids
How To Foam Roll The Teres (Major & Minor)
How To Foam Roll The Infraspinatus
How To Foam Roll The Latissimus Dorsi (aka lats)
How To Foam Roll The Thoracic Spine
Muscles Of The Front & Arms
How To Foam Roll the Deltoids
How To Foam Roll The Biceps
How To Foam Roll The Triceps
How To Foam Roll The Forearm
How To Foam Roll the Pectorals (aka Pecs)
How To Foam Roll The Abdominals
Foam Rolling For The Lower Body
In this section, you are going to find how to target the different muscle groups of the lower body.
How To Foam Roll The Glutes
How To Foam Roll The Hips
How To Foam Roll The IT Band
How To Foam Roll The Quads
How To Foam Roll The Hamstrings
How To Foam Roll The Adductors
How To Foam Roll The Calves
How To Foam Roll The Shins
How To Foam Roll The Feet
How To Implement Foam Rolling Into Your Current Training Plan
There are too many muscles Todd! How will I be able to cover all of them?
If you are feeling overwhelmed with the info so far, I can totally relate. When I started using foam rolling I was confused as well.
Which muscles should I target first?
Are all of them of the same importance?
How do I know if a muscle group needs to be massaged?
These were some of the questions that I constantly had in mind.
In this section, I am going to address all of them.
To begin with there are 4 different ways of using foam rolling:
- During your warm up
- During your cool down
- With sessions fully dedicated to recovery
- Using multiple short sessions through the day
In all of these ways, you can target different muscle groups.
How To Use Foam Rolling In Your Warm Up
During the warm up the foam rolling doesn’t have to be very extensive or very focused on tight spots. Usually you can just roll a muscle group 3-8 times. If you find a tight spot and you want to address it, you should spend 30 seconds on it (you can spend more time, but since it’s just a warm up I suggest not to do that so you have time to address other areas as well).
Even though I wouldn’t recommend it, your warm up can consist of only foam rolling exercises. What I would recommend is to combine foam rolling with stretching and mobility exercises.
You can start your warm up with the foam rolling and then follow with the stretching and mobility drills.
During the warm up, your focus should be in the muscles that are going to be trained in the main workout.
Sample Warm Up #1: Agile 8
This is a great warm up routine, that is mostly focused on the lower body.
Sample Warm Up #2: Limber 11
This is another great routine designed by Joe DeFranco.
It’s very similar to agile 8, but it has more exercises.
Like the previous routine, this is mostly focused on the lower body.
If you are going to work on the upper body as well, you will have to target some of the upper body muscles as well.
You could do that by adding some extra exercises to these two routines (agile 8 and limber 11), like lats and pecs foam rolling.
Sample Warm Up #3
This warm up is designed for a full body workout.
A1: 1-2 minutes glutes foam rolling
B1: 1-2 minutes IT band foam rolling
C1: 1-2 minutes lats foam rolling
D1: 1-2 minutes thoracic spine foam rolling
F1: 3-5 minutes jump rope
- Go from A1 to F1 without rest in between the exercises
- You can modify this warm up by replacing one muscle group with another one that’s more relevant to your goals.
How To Use Foam Rolling To Cool Down
Similarly to the warm up, in the cool down the foam rolling should be focused on the muscles that were trained during the main workout.
It’s good to always have a planned cool down session with the exercises that are needed the most, however you can leave some space for more flexibility. This is going to allow you to target any muscles groups that feel sorer than usual after a workout.
Your cool down can consist of only foam rolling exercises.
Sample Cool Down #1: Lower Body Focused
This cool down sample is designed for lower body focused workouts.
A1: 1-2 minutes glutes foam rolling
B1: 1-2 minutes IT band foam rolling
C1: 1-2 minutes hips foam rolling
D1: 1-2 minutes quads foam rolling
E1: 1-2 minutes hamstring foam rolling
F1: 1-2 Calves foam rolling
- Go from A1 to F1 without rest between the exercises.
- You can spend more time on a specific muscle group if you have the time to do so.
Sample Cool Down #2: Upper Body Focused
This cool down sample is designed for upper body focused workouts.
A1: 3-5 minutes pectorals foam rolling
B1: 3-5 minutes lats foam rolling
C1: 3-5 minutes thoracic spine foam rolling
- Go from A1 to C1 without rest between the exercises.
Sample Cool Down #3: Full Body
This cool down sample is designed for full body workouts.
A1: 2-4 minutes thoracic spine foam rolling
B1: 2-4 minutes glutes foam rolling
C1: 2-4 minutes quads foam rolling
D1: 2-4 minutes lats foam rolling
E1: 1-2 minutes forearm foam rolling
- You should go from A1 to E1 without rest between the exercises.
A common theme you might have noticed in the cool down samples is that they focus mostly on the bigger muscle groups. The main reason behind that is t that these muscle groups tend to develop a lot of tight spots. However, if you feel that a specific muscle group is very sore, don’t hesitate to work on it.
Full Recovery Sessions
During your full recovery session, you are going to target as many muscle groups as you can. However, your priority should be on the muscles that feel sorer or the ones that will help you achieve your goals faster.
For example, if you have trained with pistols squats the day before and your legs (quads, glutes, IT band, etc) are tired, you should focus your attention on your lower body. Sometimes you may need to focus on your lower body for the entire recovery session.
Lastly, a big difference between the full sessions and the warm up/cool down is that in the first ones you will have more available time to foam roll and, as a result, you can spend more time on the tight spots (knots), usually 1-3 minutes. A full recovery session should last 30-60 minutes.
Using Multiple Mini-Sessions Throughout The Day
Apart from the 3 ways discussed above, there is also another way of implementing foam rolling into your training plan.
You can do this with multiple mini-sessions.
Since these are going to be small, you can’t expect to target lots of muscle groups.
These mini-sessions can consist of 1-3 exercises, usually targeting the muscle groups that feel the sorest and the ones that will help you reach your training goals faster.
Some of the muscle groups that I like to target with the mini sessions are:
- The muscles of the forearms.
- The muscles of my feet.
- The glutes.
Mini sessions shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes and can be performed 1-4 times per day targeting the same or different muscle groups.
If you want to recover faster, then, as you can see, foam rolling is one of the best tools available.
If you haven’t tried foam rolling yet, you are really missing out on some great benefits.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. It may easily be one of the best training investments you’ve ever made.
Do you have any questions in regards to foam rolling?
Let me know in the comments section below.
I would love to help you out!
– Bodyweight Todd