Mobility, Movement and Recovery: Why I’m Saying Goodbye to Foam-Rolling

An insightful look into mobility, foam rolling and how to find out what works best for you.

First of all, this is my opinion on foam-rolling based on personal experiences with me and people I have trained and trained with. We have to go back a few years ago when I first started martial arts, kundalini yoga and “body rolling”, as it was called back then. It was about doing different exercises, stretching, breathing and inflicting small amounts of pain on yourself (also called self-massage) to release tension on the muscles… it felt nice! Quite addictive actually…

I was still in my first years of learning phase, still trying anything and everything and I was constantly getting hurt. Unfortunately I never expressed how much certain positions caused me discomfort to my coaches, and I was always ending up with some kind of a niggle or pain. How was I supposed to know I didn’t have the mobility to sit on my heels or press over head – didn’t everyone else feel like this? Like, weren’t their joints grinding and their shoulders and knees feeling like they were going to snap?

Eventually I completely broke down. I had knee and shoulder problems and torn fascia in my lower back. So I did what any normal person would do! I started self-researching, digging balls into myself, hooking myself up to bands, “smashing” and “breaking down scar tissue” – I could make any pain go away in 30 minutes! I was a complete mobility boss! My techniques got better and better and as I started studying physiotherapy and different massage styles. My self-massage got even better! I could literally train every day and never get sore!!! It was amazing!

However despite these techniques I was using, my squat range of motion and shoulder mobility wasn’t really increasing. It would increase after 30 minutes of bashing myself silly, but after a while I started needing that 30 minutes at the start of every session… It wasn’t really working for me anymore, I started to research more and look at other people, it seemed like everyone that focused on their “mobility” in that way was constantly getting hurt or injured anyway. What gives!?

Even after meeting an awesome therapist in the world of mobility that told me that it was a waste of time and questioned “what does it actually do?” I was still brainwashed, this is the way you have to do mobility! If something is sore, you make it not sore. Is that not a good thing!?

A PERSONAL APPROACH TO MOBILITY

My approach to mobility now with myself and any of my students is purely exercise based.

If you cannot earn a range of motion through a scaled exercise, time devotion and experimentation then you don’t deserve it: there are no quick fixes any more. With the techniques I use now I have managed to increase my flexibility and even been able to pull off some crazy yoga moves to a certain extent. My awareness and strength has gone through the roof, my gymnastic skills have dramatically increased without much upkeep; I just feel stronger and better every damn day. Same for my athletes! I have had tremendous success now with helping people recover from injury and limitations and it’s all purely from simple ideas. Did it take me all these years and learning all the other techniques to reach this level of simplicity? Yes, but I am truly grateful and humbled by the process. A day spent learning is a day not wasted.

Truthfully though, everything I have learned over the years and everything I will continue to learn I will always apply my thought of “You know what, that might work for someone” because no matter how many studies I’ve read of different injuries and movement patterns I always meet people that go against the “rules”. There are similarities between some people, body types and hip structures but ultimately every single person on this planet is different. Be that training history, genetics, structure, diet, motivation – there are just too many variables to make the perfect one size fits all program.

ALTERNATIVES TO FOAM-ROLLING

I will still pick up the roller from time to time, purely from an “it feels nice” perspective, but will it ever become a part of my programming again? Probably not. How do you know you’re really loosening the thing that needs loosened? How do you know if you’re not just creating more instability and pissing everything in the surrounding area off? I would just rather spend my time strengthening my joints and focus on moving better all the time. If I feel like I want a good rub down then I hit a good sports massage and get someone else to do it. Ultimately, do what makes you feel good and be happy. Take a step back and evaluate if what you’re doing for you is really working for you.

Check out more on my coaching page.

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About The Author

Tom Morrison is a British Weightlifting coach, martial artist and CrossFit trainer & competitor. He is known for his simplistic approach to teaching and has worked with all kinds of bodies including professional MMA fighters, football and rugby players, experienced CrossFit athletes and weightlifters, people with no mobility, people with hypermobility, people with chronic back, knee and shoulder injuries and most commonly, people with general ...

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