Foam Rolling 101

A trend that has grown in the fitness industry of recent years is called foam rolling, or as some people might call it self-myofascial release (SMR). However, what it does is still a question we must explore. 

There are a couple of schools of thoughts regarding SMR. The first school of thought is the idea that SMR is a way to help break scar tissue. The other school of thought is that SMR stimulates proprioceptive organs within our soft tissue called Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles to tell essentially tell our brain that a muscle is overactive, and, for lack of a better term, needs to be turned off. 

For myself, I used to think that the first school of thought was the correct one. However, I have come to learn that to break up scar tissue and fascia the amount of pressure and force needed to be applied is not something that can be achieved through foam rolling. However, the idea that foam rolling can help inhibit muscles that are chronically "turned on" is something that is truly valid. 

You see our daily living makes some muscle groups more active than others. For instance, sitting here writing this up, my hip flexors are turned on, my pec minor is pulling my shoulders forward, and my neck is craning forward. If I do not take care of these muscle groups, eventually I will find these muscles become very tight and affect my quality of movement.

This is where foam rolling, and SMR becomes the most valuable, inhibiting these muscles, so that I may activate the right muscles and thereby improve my movement.

The following are videos demonstrating areas I find are key to foam roll:

The Foot - You can use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball.

Calves - This is best when using a foam roller and one leg. 





Finally, when you are done foam rolling the essential part is to get moving. If you foam roll an area and do not then seek to use your new found ranges of motion, then you may as well not even be foam rolling.

Suffice to say, foam rolling is helpful, especially as it pertains to helping us enjoy the subsequent workout and movement that follows.



What to do When Progress Stalls, the Dreaded Plateau

There is a theory we are taught where the quickest direction from point A to point B is a straight line. Such a theory is all well and good, but the issue I have with theories is that they rarely honestly apply to the real world. For instance, in theory, Superman would never lose to Batman. In theory, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit would be a great addition to the Lord of the Rings Saga. However, as we have learned, Batman is just too awesome, and the Hobbit was, to put it lightly, a disappointment. Ever go on google maps? Ever notice that google maps rarely takes you in a straight line? Yea that theory is busted too.


However, in the training world, it is easy to prescribe to straight line theory and assume that progress will be linear. What I mean by this, is that if you lost added 5 pounds to your deadlift last week, or lost a pound last week, then you should continue to lose a pound every week or add 5 pounds to your deadlift every week. If either were the case, we would have a lot of 1000 pound deadlifters. 

The issue is our bodies. Our bodies are designed in such a way that they adapt to a given stimulus. For my fellow nerds, this adaptation is called allostasis. The goal of the body is to be in the most balanced state possible. So eventually our body hits something dreaded by many gym goers, called the plateau. Essentially, our body stops making progress and stalls; sometimes it might go backward a little bit. It can be discouraging, it can be deflating, and it may even make you want to stop working out. 

The beautiful thing is, there are steps we can take to avoid plateaus. I want to lay out the most important things you can do. 

1.) Keep perspective - Think back to when your fitness journey began, where were you when you started. I guarantee you are far better now than you used to be. Yes, the plateau may have hit, you may have even gone backwards a little bit. This is natural, and it only means that your body has gotten fitter and stronger. Keeping the perspective that you are far ahead of where you started is crucial to keep you motivated. The worst thing you can do when you stall in progress is to stop. 

2.) Remain calm - One of the worst things you can do when a plateau hits is immediately start changing everything to find a solution. I've been there, and it only makes the plateau last longer. Ever notice that when you are stuck in traffic, no matter what lane you jump to you never seem to go faster? Instead go back to my first piece of advice, and remember that you are far better than where you once were at, and then move on to my next bit of advice.

3.) Remain consistent - For my NBA fans out there, I quote the 76ers, "trust the process." Many times the best thing you can do is keep doing what you were doing. This, of course, means that while you're training, you can still aim to do more reps than last time, in fact, I encourage it. Remember that while motivation may be waning, discipline is what will get you to where you want to be. You can have discipline without motivation, and in many times you will need this discipline. There will be days where you do not want to train or eat right, but stick with the process and continue to be consistent with what is laid out before you. 

Most importantly, whatever your goal may be, embrace the process. There is a quote I like that says "life before death." Mostly, what this quote is saying is that all of us have a point B of death; however, rather than focus or get hung up on that we must embrace and enjoy life. The same goes for training; when you embrace the process and enjoy the discipline of training, you will find yourself far more disciplined and far less discouraged when plateaus happen.

Progress stalls, and it sometimes goes backward, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is true, and it is inevitable. However, if you follow my advice, you will find yourself coming out on the other side, and more importantly, your mind and character will be all the better for it.


What Does Variation Even Mean?

This has been a beast of a series, but in case you missed the following posts I encourage you to check them out before we delve into variation:

The Rocking Chair of Homeostais



I do not know about you all, but I remember when I was a kid rainy days were the worst. I mean they started out awesome, but went downhill fast. After a while I just wanted to go outside, my video games, books, all that stuff just got boring. I mean this may sound preposterous but there is only so much Super Smash Bros a kid can play in one day. Inevitably boredom sets in and the all too popular complaint, "I'm bored". 



Although, to be honest, I was a little frightened to use this phrase with my mom, because such a phrase meant I had no where to escape to from chores...

This "I'm bored" phrase tends to be prevalent in our society. However rather than blame it on the "microwave mindset" or the "instafit" mindset I think it is more important to see how this might relate to our body, our workouts, and the notion I have been talking about regarding the disruption of homeostasis. 

Quite frankly, our body, in order to adapt, does need variety in the workouts. We cannot do the same thing every single time all the time. Why? Because our body will stop feeling the need to adapt, and as a result our progress stalls. 

In previous posts I have talked about mixing up volume and intensity for variety, but we can also mix up the exercises we are doing, and that is the key point of today's post. Movement variation. 

Before I go any further I want to make one point clear. This does not mean do completely random workouts every single day. Such a strategy is as effective in the long term as trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon, good luck. Rather it means being smart about your programming (which I will get into in a future post) and giving your body enough time to adapt before changing things again. 

This is where movement patterns come into the discussion. (If only I got 67 cents every time I discussed movement patterns). Understanding movement patterns and creating variation within the movement patterns can go a long way in creating the type of movement variety that is not just effective but sustainable. 

Take a look at the 6 basic movement patterns, I will provide 3 exercises for each:

  1. Hinge (Deadlift, Hip Bridge, Hex Bar Deadlift)
  2. Squat (Front Squat, Back Squat, Goblet Squat)
  3. Single Leg (Split Squat, Reverse Lunge, Step-up)
  4. Upper Body Push (Push-up, Bench Press, Overhead Press)
  5. Upper Body Pull (Prone Row, Pull-up, TRX Row)
  6. Core (Bear Crawl, Farmer Carry, Plank)

As basic as this may seem these 18 exercises could allow for enough variety to keep your body adapting for probably a good couple years and then some.

We have now discussed volume, intensity, variety, all that remains is frequency and density. I hope you are prepared, because at the end of this I will show you how to use this information to create your own programs that will constantly keep you moving forward. 

- Dave


Intensity & Homeostasis: How Manipulating the Weight You Use Will Help You to Grow

In the very first post of this series, I discussed homeostasis and stress. Our body wants to keep everything in balance (homeostasis), but to grow, we must introduce something to disrupt the balance (stress). 

Think of it like Ancient China. The Chinese were constantly getting invaded by surrounding countries like Mongolia. China is our body, and the Mongolians are stress. Rather than let themselves be constantly invaded China built the Great Wall to keep invaders out. In other words, in response to the stress of invasion, China created stronger defenses. If China never had to worry about attacks, there's a good chance they would never have constructed the Great Wall. I may have watched Mulan recently...

Like all analogies, it does not quite do the justice of how our body responds to stress, but I hope it gets the point across. Stressors will help us get stronger, if we manipulate them, and utilize them correctly.

As mentioned in prior installments, five key strategies can help force our body to adapt. The last post I discussed volume, and today I will discuss intensity.

Intensity could also be redefined as difficulty, or how hard are you going? For weight, training intensity is often defined as the weight on the bar relative to your one repetition maximum. However, I just like to think of it as the poundage used, period. Compared to volume there is less to consider in regards to managing intensity. To manipulate intensity change the weight on the bar.

For those of you counting at home, that looks like some pretty high intensity. Also this is what I like to think I look like when I lift...

For those of you counting at home, that looks like some pretty high intensity. Also this is what I like to think I look like when I lift...

However, where it starts to get complicated is when we start to think of the relationship between volume and intensity. In many cases, as intensity increases volume decreases. There is usually a good chance that if you double the weight, you will not be able to do as many sets and reps with that weight.

For instance, let's say you rep out five sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds. Since volume is sets*reps*weight, this would equal 5,000. But if you did 150 pounds you might only be able to handle five reps. The weight has increased by 150%, but the volume has decreased to 3,750 pounds. To quote Hamlet, "Ay, there's the rub."

What do we do then? If volume can help disrupt homeostasis and incur growth, but intensity does the same, what do we manipulate and when? 

I know this may be getting a bit confusing but before you go Avril Lavigne on me allow me to answer your questions. Do not worry about when to manipulate the stressors, I'll explain this later. But in regards to what to manipulate, you can manipulate both. 

Some times, when you just want to go hard and go all out, (these should be few and far between), you can push both volume and intensity up. Your body will hate you for it, but it can be effective every so often. I reiterate though; these should be few and far between.

However, one strategy I like to utilize can be called intensity cycling. Let's say you're doing a three-week program. Well, it may look something like this.

  • Week 1: High Volume, Low Intensity
  • Week 2: Moderate Volume, Moderate Intensity
  • Week 3: Low Volume, High Intensity

By now you should have gotten the hint to read my volume post. If you haven't already, please go back do that. However, if you have, the question may become, "Why is intensity necessary? Couldn't you just keep increasing volume?"

Well, there lies the difficulty. Remember if our body adapts to a stimulus eventually the stimulus is going to cease to be effective. So this is one reason why having another stimulus involved can help with getting stronger.

Along these same lines, each stimulus will cause slightly different adaptations. For instance, volume, more times than not, will help improve muscular endurance, mental toughness, and muscle size. While increasing intensity may help with these as well, it will increase your bodies ability to recruit muscles more than anything. Or as nerds such as myself like to call say, the intensity will help improve your motor unit recruitment. 

Regardless of the vernacular, the better your body can use its muscles the stronger you will become, the stronger you become the higher volume you will be able to endure, the higher volume you can take the bigger or denser your muscles become, the larger more dense your muscles become, the more potential you have to become stronger. And this is the house that Jack built...

Alright, you made it. How are you feeling so far? Take a deep breath.

There is a lot of info in just this little post, but I hope you are starting to get a better grasp of how to make sure you are constantly growing, getting stronger, or getting the physique you've always wanted. Regardless of your goals, forcing your body to have to build more solid walls is the key. 

However, volume and intensity cannot be the only two variables we use. Otherwise, we will eventually cease to keep adapting. This is why in the next post I will discuss exercise variation. But for now, take some time to absorb what you've just read.

- Dave