Just because you’re using a foam roller doesn’t necessarily mean that movement should be considered a self-myofascial releases (SMR) technique.
This may be hard for some of you overly touchy feely soft tissue zealots to conceptualize, but the foam roller is just another piece of equipment in a gym. Its use is far from mandatory.
The tool does not create the result, even if we are talking about your beloved roller.
Alongside its popularity for decreasing neurological tone of soft tissues, the foam roller’s shape and size quietly provides a very novel mobility tool.
Using one helps lifters and athletes enhance positions for stretching and mobilization based movements.
Here are the four most effective mobility drills that use a foam roller.
These drills are staples in my athlete’s programs. And no, these are not “foam rolling SMR techniques” so get it straight.
We are talking about mobility using just another tool.
One of the most common movement dysfunctions a majority of lifters experience is an inability to achieve thoracic spine extension, especially in a braced position under load. While this positioning deficit may seem minor, the real problem behind the inability to achieve and maintain a neutral thoracic spine position is the undue stress this spinal position places on the shoulders and neck.
Simply put, the thoracic spine was anatomically designed to be a mobile group of spinal segments to take stress off the lower back, shoulders, and neck during physical activities.
If this region of the spine loses its ability to be mobile in nature, the joints and regions I just mentioned are placed in a more vulnerable position for chronic or traumatic injury. This is part of the problem as to why achy shoulders and lower back pain are so prominent in the lifting population.
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Old school thought was that if a tissue or region of the body was lacking mobility, the best way to remediate is through addressing the soft tissues with SMR techniques. While this can be a viable self-treatment option for some areas of the body, the thoracic spine isn’t one of those areas.
Thoracic spine mobility enhancement is highly dependent on mobilizing vertebral segments, not the soft tissues that are local to this region. This is the reason why using the shape and size of a foam roller to create a fulcrum point for you to mobilize individual segments is so effective for enhancing spinal positions through the mid back.
Sure, feel free to “foam roll” your upper back and thoracic spine, but make sure you prioritize the thoracic spine extension with diaphragmatic breath over the foam roller to really start seeing performance enhancement and mobility results.
ANTERIOR-LATERAL HIP GROUP
The large superficial gluteus maximus gets all the glory when it comes to traditionalist SMR and foam rolling techniques. That’s fine as the glute is a great place to roll soft tissue. However, it should be mentioned that much of the benefit for addressing the gluteal group is actually achieved through targeting the deeper structures responsible for stabilization of the hip and pelvis.
The gluteus medius muscle is a fan shaped muscle located deep to the gluteus maximus. It is located on the lateral side of the hip, between two major bony prominences, the greater trochanter of the femur and the iliac crest of the pelvis. This muscle provides lateral stabilization of the hip and pelvis and plays an active roll in some hip rotation and abduction.
Due to the anatomical location of this muscle, it is very hard to fit a foam roller into the soft tissue groove and roll it traditionally along the fiber orientation. For those of you thinking you should use a lacrosse ball instead, this type of pinpoint pressure placed in such an acute area where a ton of vascular and neural structures are, is playing with fire.
So how do we address this common area directly without pissing off the other all-important structures of the hip?
By placing the foam roller perpendicular with the body in contact with the soft tissue area between the hip and pelvis, we will be using our body to move over the roller. This is worth repeating. We will not be “rolling” the foam roller underneath the body, but rather rotating our hip and pelvis on top of the roller while it is stationary.
This is a money move that I’ve been using with my athletes for years. But as simple as it looks, there are a few key points. Be sure to rotate slowly over the roller in order to not only hit the soft tissues of the lateral hip, but to also mobilize the pelvis and hips along with it. The slower you move and the better spinal position you can maintain, the better your results will be.
LATSISSIMUS & RIB CAGE
Ah, the lats! This muscle gets commonly tight and tonic due to its insertion point on the inside of the humerus, making it a secret internal rotator of the shoulder. Everyone who’s been on a foam roller has hit the lats once or twice. Sure, directly rolling this muscle and the structures surrounding it can do some good. But I’ve got a way to make this move even better.
Rolling individual structures like the lats is fine for systemic recovery or to tap into neurological relaxation, but for movement and training preparation, we can do better! The lats have a very broad attachment point throughout the back of the thoracic cage. Thus, targeting this muscle is highly dependent on mobilizing the rib cage with active movements.
After you get done smashing the roller and ball into your armpit and hurting yourself, stick the foam roller under you and get some real lat mobility work in. Pressure down on the top portion of the lat while your body is positioned in sidelying. Use your opposite arm and side of the rib cage to reach and stretch through to meet your hands together in an overhead position.
This targets the lat on the roller from a soft tissue standpoint, while incorporating the stretch of the thoracic cage and opposite side lat, resulting in tension throughout the entire system. Due to many deep direct insertional and fascial connections, it is ideal to be mobilizing both lats at once.
Give this one a try, as it feels great and will actually work to enhance your thoracic spine and rib cage positions as well.
Yes, you’ve all been waiting on the chest and shoulder mobility drill, so here it is. The pectoralis group is not only comprised of one big and superficial muscle we target on bench press, but rather two synergistic muscles working together in unison; the pectoralis major and minor.
I realize that only speaking to two of the muscles of the shoulder girdle is quite simplistic, as there are many more primary movers and key players in position throughout this region. But for the sake of targeting mobility, we’ll key in on these two.
Traditional foam rolling does a pretty good job of targeting the pectoralis major muscle, especially near its insertion point closest to the shoulder joint. But many times, overly aggressive stretching and SMR work can leave the tendons of the pec beat up.
It can also aggravate the smaller more intricate structures of the anterior shoulder girdle such as the rotator cuff and long head of the biceps tendons. A way to self-treat around this problem is by using the foam roller to enhance your angles for a pin and stretch type movement.
Since we want to be focusing on gaining mobility and flexibility, it would be smart to try to take the tendons and other non-contractile tissues involved in a movement or position out of the equation.
For the pecs, we will be placing the foam roller under the chest arranged in a 45-degree angle to the body right under the meaty muscular portion of the pec itself. This area is found an inch or two up towards the shoulder from the nipple.
By placing pressure through this area, then rotating your opposite shoulder and rib cage, we not only mobilize the pec, but also the rib cage and thoracic spine. This is a catch all move that really does a great deal of good for both the T-Spine and shoulders. I highly recommend placing this into your daily prehab program.