**Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog post is not to provide medical advice, but to question some commonly held notions about what is most appropriate for training and performance. There are two important concepts to take away from this post: 1) There is no such thing as “the perfect warm-up” that everyone should follow, and 2) Challenge the norm by experimenting with your workout routines**
Over the past month, I started to question one of the most common practices for addressing skeletal muscle immobility and pain pre-workout; foam rolling. Why should I try to ‘relax’ my muscle into a range of motion when it is telling me it does not want to be placed in a particular position?
The primary function of our muscles is to move and stabilize our joints. If your body is telling you that it doesn’t want to be placed in a particular position, through tightness around a joint, then should we really be performing foam rolling which forces it to? If we think that foam rolling (pre-workout) is not beneficial, and potentially harmful, then what can athletes do to address mobility and pain issues?
I challenged the notion of foam rolling being the “be all/end all” by changing my daily squat warm-up. I substituted foam rolling for dynamic stretching and activation exercises. My warm-up went as follows:
Two sets of:
- 10 Donkey Kicks on each leg
- 10 Isolated Hamstring Curls on each leg
- 10 Glute Bridges
- 10 Banded Side Shuffles, 5 alternating with each leg
- 10 Leg Swings, in the sagittal and frontal planes
- 1 minute Paused Air Squat (in the hole), using the rig to hold onto. It is important to be dynamic and not static (move around in the hole).
What was the result?
Absolutely no pain when I performed my squats, even when performing them at high intensities. And more importantly, I found that the activation exercises improved my muscle awareness, which in turn, improved my movement proficiency by being able to activate the appropriate muscles for the particular exercise.
What did I conclude?
For me, foam rolling is overrated for pre-workout mobilization. If you experience pain when performing a particular exercise, it is most likely due to three reasons: 1) Certain muscle(s) are not properly activated, 2) Your body is still trying to recover from the previous training session, or 3) Possibly a combination of both. Foam rolling should mainly be performed post-workout for pain management. If you want to improve your mobility for particular exercises, then place your body in positions that are advantageous for that particular exercise. The only situation where foam rolling should be used in a pre-workout scenario is for competitive athletes who need to meet specific range of motion standards for competition.
Now, I realize that every athlete is different, and that certain pre-workout rituals will vary from athlete to athlete. But, I highly encourage everyone to experiment with your warm-ups. If you foam roll, voodoo band, or static stretch in your warm-ups currently, try substituting them with activation and dynamic exercises. That way you will know for sure what works for you. Who knows, it might be one of the best training decisions you have ever made.
By Storm Patterson, inspired by Callum Owen.