Foam rolling has been under some scrutiny lately due to the fact that what we once thought it did is no longer popular belief. Its been called the poor man's massage, and with this name came the assumption that it was on par with soft tissue work from a massage professional. Although it has been mentioned that foam rolling will never be as valuable as actual hands-on attention, the differences have never really been clearly explained. Due to this fact, some people are now questioning the value of foam rolling altogether. However, just because it doesn’t do what we once thought it did doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
It used to be believed that foam rolling created a change within the tissue. A change much like the effects of a deep tissue massage. Following this line of logic, the pressure applied by the roller would produce a chemical reaction that would in-turn create a change within the tissue (breakup adhesions, knots, realign fiber direction, etc). However, many practitioners have explained that the pressure is not great enough, and the absence of a shearing force between layers of tissue prevents foam rolling from having the same effect. If you have ever had a relaxing massage, and a deep tissue massage, you already understand the difference between the two. A deep tissue massage leaves you sore like you worked out the day before. A relaxing massage makes you feel refreshed and renewed. Foam rolling is like a relaxing massage, while deep tissue work will have you feeling the effects the next day. These are both valuable in their own way, just commonly misunderstood.
So, if foam rolling doesn’t create change within the tissue why do we see positive results? Foam rolling moves bound fluid out and new fluid in (increasing blood flow and aiding in lymphatic drainage). With this process comes a renewal of tissue, removal of waste, and delivery of nourishment. All very positive results. However, the most important aspect of foam rolling involves its effect on the nervous system. On a very basic level, the human body alternates between a stressed state (sympathetic) and a relaxed state (parasympathetic). It is this very shifting that keeps us alive and well. The problem is, is that most of us find ourselves stuck in a stressed state with a certain inability to relax. With daily stress, inactivity, and instability, we find ourselves stuck in this state. If we are permanently in a stressed state, recovery suffers, sleep suffers, we compensate with poor movement patterns, and tissues begin to breakdown. This is why it’s so important to find ways to tell our body that it is in fact okay to relax.
One effective strategy to help the body shift back to a relaxed state happens to be foam rolling. Foam rolling uses pressure to basically trick the brain into letting go of artificial tension. When you look at the recent popularity of the Postural Restoration Institute, where this concept is discussed, it makes a lot of sense. Most of us are just neurologically tight and in a bad position. We may not have any mobility or muscle length problems present in the first place. When the nervous system feels threatened it guards us from injury by creating superficial stability (what most would feel as tightness). PRI's method uses breathing to get the body to let go of this guarding. Foam rolling uses pressure to tell the body to let go. Once the nervous system relaxes we gain range of motion and we feel a decrease in tension. With increases in range of motion we get closer to our ideal length tension relationships. These normalized relationships take pressure off of secondary tissues and allow primary tissues to perform at an optimal level. All without stretching one thing.
At the end of the day, if we can get the nervous system to let go of its death grip and give us increases in ROM without even having to stretch, we’re going to program it. Foam rolling is only a small piece of the puzzle and creating change depends on several components within an integrated system. Strategies such as foam rolling, breathing, and static stretching only temporarily create change. What they really do is create a window of opportunity to create lasting change. The real question is what you do with that window.
Still not sold? Lebron is...
Through all my research I have not found an article that has done a better job than "Training the Energy Systems" by the late Dr. Fritz Hagerman. Dr. Hagerman was the exercise physiologist for the U.S. National team for about 30 years. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for his contributions to the sport of rowing. I've attached the document below since it has been rather difficult to find online. If you would like a copy sent to you in an email feel free to contact me.
I profiled a few key points that stood out to me, and that help to define my program, but please take the time to read the article for yourself. There is a treasure trove of information in these 8 pages. It took me about a year of research to learn all of this on my own. You will be saving yourself a lot of time by diving into this piece of work.
1) Use the 10% rule
"Overload the physiological systems, but don't concentrate this overload; follow the 10% rule when starting a training program, meaning an increase of no more than 10% per week in training frequency, duration, and intensity. As training progresses, then the weekly increase can be reduced to as low as 5%"(Hagerman 1).
2) Don't forget about recovery
"Rest and recovery are vital ingredients in the best training recipe; a failure to plan for these can produce disastrous results, including peaking at the wrong time, overtraining, or chronic fatigue. Remember, undertraining is usually never a problem for the motivated rower. If you are unusually tired, injured, or sick, then taking a day or two off should not be considered a serious training set-back"(Hagerman 1).
3) Plan ahead
"It is well known that the timing of increasing or decreasing intensity determines whether an athlete "peaks" at the desired time or not. In addition, if intensity is increased at too high a rate it can lead to overtraining, injury, and fatigue" (Hagerman 2).
4) Emphasize quality over quantity
"Do not interpret the value of aerobic training in only quantitative terms. Every workout, even of a low intensity, must always stress quality" (Hagerman 6).
5) Avoid 30+ minute pieces
"We have convincing data, including muscle biopsy histochemical and biochemical indicators, which support that rowing continuously at a low steady state intensity for 60 minutes or longer for any caliber of rower, is not more effective in maintaining aerobic capacity than 30 minutes of rowing at the same work intensity. Furthermore, performing 2 intermittent 30 minute exercise bouts of relatively high aerobic work intensity...is a much stronger aerobic training stimulus than lower intensity continuous rowing. Intermittent high intensity work not only proved significantly more effective than either 30 or 60 minutes of rowing in the improvement of aerobic capacity, but it was also more neuromuscularly task specific" (Hagerman 7).
No matter how much time you spend training, exercising, or being active, there are always more hours left in the day. Although the amount of time that we dedicate to exercise is very important, we may want to look deeper into how we are spending our remaining hours. Lets take a closer look at an average person that exercises 3 times a week.
Total hours of exercise in a week: 3
Total hours in a week: 168
Total hours not spent exercising in a week: 165
In this example we are spending less than 2% of our time exercising. Yes, I know, a lot of these hours are spent sleeping but I would argue that most of us don't spend enough time there either (as I write this at 1:00am in the morning).
To keep it simple, we are spending 165 hours a week in either a good position, or a bad position. Overtime, the way we hold ourselves throughout the day has a greater impact on our minds and bodies than the 3 hours spent on exercise. Poor posture results in altered body mechanics, decreased blood flow, increased stress levels, increased feelings of depression, and decreased energy levels. Poor posture affects how others feel about us, and more importantly, it affects how we feel about ourselves. All of this results from just walking or sitting in a slouched position!
In a study where scientists studied participants in "high-power" postures vs. "low-power" postures the "high-power" participants experienced a 20% increase in testosterone (power hormone) and a 25% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone). The "low-power" participants on the other hand experienced a 10% loss in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. Oh, and by the way, these chemical changes took effect after only 2 minutes. What does all this mean? Holding ourselves in a good position makes us happier, more confident, less stressed, and less likely to experience negative health effects including stress related health issues and injuries.
The bottom line: be aware of your posture and body position in day-to-day life and you will notice dramatic changes in how you feel, move, and ultimately perform. The body is powerful...use it to your advantage!
If you are interested you can learn more from the links below:
Nutrition bars, energy bars, cereal bars, meals to go, snack bars… The names vary and the list could keep going on but when you’re staring at a wall of labels, how are you supposed to choose? Which bars are the best snacks as far as taste? If it isn’t palatable, and dare I say enjoyable, will you even eat it or will it eventually just fall to the bottom of the snack bin? What about nutrition? What ingredients need to stand out as little red flags so you can make a quicker decision in the sea of pre-packaged convenient sustenance?
I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to openly admit that I excitedly peruse each and every isle of my local Sprouts Farmer’s Market just to check out all the products. I love going to the grocery store and sometimes I’m really in the mood to read food labels purely out of curiosity. Occasionally, I even buy stuff. I am fully aware that this is not normal behavior. I thought I’d put my weird little hobby to good use when one of my clients asked me what nutrition bars I most highly recommended. She, like my other clients and young athletes, sometimes has trouble deciphering the labels, decoding the ingredient list and navigating the endless options. Here are some tips, tidbits and my personal picks; I hope it helps.
Michael Pollan, author of the popular nutrition book Food Rules, said it best when he advised to “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.” This rule applies when looking for healthy, nutrient dense food bars.
What to look for:
What to avoid:
Keep in mind that when looking for a nutrition bar in lieu of a snack or meal, a high caloric count with good fats, sugars, minerals and vitamins is essential to properly fuel your body. Whenever possible however, eat real, fresh food over nutrition bars.
If the bar you seek is for post workout fuel, look at the protein source (remember, avoid protein isolates), protein percentage, and carbohydrate percentage. It is optimal to consume something with a 3:1 ratio for carbohydrates : protein.
Bars to Try
Bars to Avoid
Pub Med: US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7884536
Dr. Andrew Weil
Dr. Chris Mohr and Dr. Kara Mohr
Interested in improving your squat? Here is a great article written by one of the smartest guys I know, Kevin Carr from Movement as Medicine.
Read the whole article here:
View the exercises below:
Dan John keeps it simple and realistic in his recent article for Men's Health.
The key to goal setting: "Inch by inch, it's a cinch. Yard by yard, it is hard."
I have a goal for you. Oh, not for this January or even this next year. On January 1, 2015, I want you to weigh one pound less than you do today. That's my goal for you.
Now, if you have to fast from Thanksgiving 2014 until New Year's Day, 2015, I am fine with that challenge. If you have to sit in a sauna in plastic all New Year’s, I am comfortable with that, too.
Wait? What do I hear? Is it scoffing and coughing about our next New Year's Feast, too little work for this man, this beast? (Hats off to Dr. Seuss here.) If you do the math and can remember that one pound is 3500 calories, you only need to cut nine calories out of your daily intake each day!
There is a sassy soft drink that advertises itself with "Just One Calorie!" If you are drinking 18 of them a day NOW, simply cut back to nine a day for the next year and, POOF, your pound will be gone!
That's all I am asking: one pound less next year.
During my annual check up, my doctor shared with me some insights about longevity. Now, he famously told me years ago that to survive from 25 to 55, statistically, one had to only follow three rules:
1. Don't smoke.
2. Wear your seatbelt—and a helmet when appropriate.
3. Learn to fall.
The other day, he shared three insights that allow you to live a long life and, ideally, drop dead (think about that):
1. Don't weigh over 300 pounds.
2. Walk or exercise a half an hour a day.
3. Eat a Mediterranean diet (gets some colorful veggies in there!).
I can bet that you have nodded your head through both lists. It's all so simple. It's simple, but it is not easy. Which gets me back to my goal for you: I want you to lose one pound this year and maintain it on January 1, 2015!
I can see the hands going up. "What about me? I want to lose fifty pounds this year!" Good for you. I am thinking that one pound is on the way to fifty, but I could be wrong.
Why such a lowly goal? Well, let me say this nicely: If you are sure you can lose one pound in a year, let's do it. One pound. One year.
Yeah, but why?
In the throwing events for track and field, John Powell—a former world record holder in the discus—gives us the key to goal setting: "Inch by inch, it's a cinch. Yard by yard, it is hard." I trained my whole career practicing with the idea of "last throw, best throw." No matter how the day progressed, I left a little mark by the best toss of the day.
My "last throw" would be when I beat that mark. It could take one throw or one hundred throws. I soon discovered that trying to simply ease one solid effort without any fanfare or craziness would create the "best throw of the day." A few years ago, at the Nationals, I was in second place by two centimeters. I smiled as I began my throw focusing on just trying to ease one lovely final toss and simply beat my own best throw. It went seventeen feet farther than my best of the day and I won.
Everybody has lofty goals. I often joke about a father whose daughter comes home and describes the love of her life: "Oh, well, Daddy, he is average looks, average height, okay body, average intelligence, okay socially, sorta blends in . . . but I am madly in love with him." Wouldn't we all want to sit her down and ask some questions about her big plans for the future?
I'm not telling you to settle. I am telling you to take a long term look at your health, fitness and performance over the past years (or decades) and realize that something as simple as a one pound loss in a year trumps a slow gradual fattening of the belly and butt and face.
Rather than have twenty goals to be perfect in all things diet, exercise, life and living, why not have one reasonable, doable goal.
I have it for you: next January 1, let's be one pound lighter. I won't punish you if it is more than that. (Want to kickstart your weight loss goal? Try this cutting-edge Get Back in Shape! program that's designed to blast belly-fat, but also leave you energized and excited.)
Dan John has taught and coached for more than 30 years. As a coach, he's helped hundreds of athletes pack on double-digit pounds of rock-solid muscle. As an athlete, John broke the American record in the Weight Pentathlon. He is the author of several books, including Intervention.
The original article can be found here
In the sport of rowing injury rates are staggering. I've read figures that range from 30%-70%. This means that at least one in every three rowers will find themselves without a seat. Yet the biggest issue is that these rates are accepted as normal in our sport. Every season athletes fall to injuries and the cycle repeats itself year after year. The simple truth that is commonly overlooked is that keeping our athletes healthy is the easiest way to improve performance. If our athletes are healthy then they have more time to train and thus more time to respond to training adaptations. More importantly, we then allow our athletes to live their lives without dealing with the consequences of a serious injury.
The truth is that there are only 3 ways to get injured from rowing (excluding any freak accidents or a serious crab).
1) Over-use or under-recovery
2) Technical error
3) Developed imbalances
Rowing is a non-contact sport therefore we have control over all 3 mechanisms listed above. Lucky for us we don’t have to deal with contact injuries such as ACL tears and concussions that are so prominent in other sports. The only way you can truly keep a football player safe is by keeping him on the sideline. We, on the other hand, can reduce the chance of all injuries from ever even occurring in the first place. All we have to do is make injury reduction a priority.
It's great to see people using our discipline to make a huge difference in people's lives.
It's unclear what the cause was for my injury. What was clear was the fact that my five year rowing career had just come to an end. I found myself lost and confused. My coaches and teammates made me feel like I was weak and exaggerating the injury to remove myself from the competitive rigors of Division 1 rowing. After five months and five different doctors it was clear that I wasn't exaggerating anything. I had spondylolisthesis at L5 and two herniated discs. Surprisingly, I was told that this injury was common in rowers and that it was completely possible to continue my rowing career. In actuality this may have been true but I feared continuing would only make it worse. I eventually decided against continuing with the hope of being able to play with my kids in the distant future.
I didn't know it at the time but my injury happened for a reason. I've spent the last 4 years of my life trying to figure out how to reduce the chance for injuries in the sport of rowing. I don't claim to be the best coach by any means but I do believe I'm making a difference in these kids lives. What I hope to do by sharing my experience is to create some thought that may help more kids than I can personally reach.
Injuries like mine are far too common in the sport of rowing. I've read figures that range from 30%-70%. This means at least one in every three rowers will find themselves injured. Yet the biggest issue is that these rates are accepted as normal in the sport. Every season athletes get injured and not much effort seems to be put into avoiding these injuries. As Mike Boyle has said, coaches treat the sport as a "survival of the best bone and connective tissue contest, a twisted take on the survival of the fittest theory. Those who don't get injured by the volume of training survive to compete". All too often this mentality creates an environment where rowers are pushed to row to the point of injury and often through injuries.
Using what I have learned through experience, experimentation, sites such as strengthcoach.com, mentorships, seminars, books, videos, articles, and several internships I was able to reach my goal last season. My #1 goal was and is to have a team with no injuries. Yet, I knew that few people would care if my team also did not remain competitive. Which leads me to goal #2: be competitive. To do this I had to go against tradition. Along the way I got a lot of strange looks and comments on how I was doing things wrong. As my boss said at the end of the season, "it took a lot of balls to try what you did, but it worked".
There are 3 mechanisms of injury in the sport of rowing:
2) Technical error
Rowing is a non-contact sport, we have control over all 3 mechanisms listed above. This means that we can reduce the chance of all injuries from ever even occurring in the first place. All we have to do is make it a priority.
Comparing my last two seasons as a head coach:
-8 Injuries out of 30 athletes (27% a little better than average)
-6th Place finish at championships
-0 Injuries out of 28 athletes (excluding 1 pre-existing injury)
-3rd Place finish at championships
Not only did our injuries drop dramatically but our performance improved as well.
Changes made between seasons:
1) Emphasized Quality over quantity, work + rest=success
We dropped training volume, increased recovery time, and encouraged quality work instead of the quantity of work. When technique broke down, training stopped.
-Trained 5 days a week instead of 6.
-Trained 15 hours a week down from 18 (hours dropped 16%).
-Decreased work volume by 25%.
2) Used an extremely progressive ESD program
-Weekly work volume ranged from 27K to 65K meters.
"Elite" programs use between 80K to 160K of work volume, 2 to 3 times more than my program.
-Never increased volume more than 10% a week, less then 20% a month total
Dr. Fritz Hagerman, the exercise physiologist for the U.S. National team recommends the 10% rule in early stages of training and regressing to 5% in later stages.
-All workouts were designed around the length of a spring race(2K)
For my team a race lasts around 6mins so workouts simulated this length of time. For example 30sec intervals were done in sets of 12, totaling 6mins of work.
3) Went against traditional wisdom, advice, and warnings
I was told that a low volume program that practices 5 days a week would never work in the sport of rowing.
-Reduced the amount of time spent on pure aerobic work
It is common for programs to include workouts such as 60-90mins of steady state work. I see no value for these workouts and therefore eliminated them from our program. Dr. Fritz Hagerman and other research actually claims that pieces over 30mins have no further benefit, and are actually associated with injury.
-Most of our aerobic capacity work came through intervals
In early stages of interval work the athlete's heart rate is elevated for 24 minutes straight when we include active recovery.
-We never trained for the fall season
The fall season consists of head races which are 5K meters long. The competitive season consists of races which are 2K meters long. Since both goals are on the opposite end of the spectrum I believe training for fall before spring can hurt your performance in the spring.
-Strived to produce and reinforce power and strength, not endurance
I have found that athletes from other sports such as football and water polo make extremely good rowers. Why then would we try to make them more endurance oriented?
-Removed long runs from the program
A source of several injuries in previous seasons and other programs.
4) Unilateral Training
Although rowing is the only bilateral sport, I found that the nature of the sport lends itself better to unilateral training.
-The application of pressure is not applied evenly between the legs or upper body.
-Imbalances are developed that need to be remedied.
-Example exercises used were RFE split squats, SLDL's, and single leg squats.
-The only bilateral lifts used were trap bar deadlifts and goblet squats.
5) Created a specific warm-up using the FMS
Athletes were screened at the beginning of the fall and spring. Warm-ups were designed around these results.
-The men's team tended to have mobility restrictions at the ankle, hip, and t-spine.
-Example correctives used were kneeling ankle mobility, rib grabs, and leg lowers.
-The women's team tended to have stability limitations on the TS Push-up.
-Example correctives used were push-up holds, walkouts, and regressed/assisted push-ups.
6) Asked myself why
Thanks to my mentor, Brandon Marcello, I had to have a good argument to keep it in my program. If I couldn't justify it, it was removed. This forced me to honestly evaluate my program.
7) Good luck
Lets face it, we may have just gotten lucky.
1) Volume that is not progressive is dangerous
-Back pain was not noted until 1980 when training volume increased (Stallard).
-Most injuries occur in the fall season, a high volume period (Hosea).
-Most injuries in rowing are related to overuse (Hosea).
-Injury incidence is directly related to the volume of training (Hosea).
2) The aerobic energy system is important, be creative in how you train for it
-Avoid pieces longer than 30mins, there is no benefit, just added risk (Hagerman).
-Use active recovery as a means to develop aerobic capacity.
3) Technique & Mobility are linked
-Often times coaches get frustrated when an athlete doesn't fix a technical error, the majority of the time it's due to mobility restrictions. They just aren't physically capable of getting into the position.
-Mobility allows proper technique, therefore mobility is king
4) Keys to technique and injury reduction in rowing:
-Teach the hip hinge
If rowers don't know how to hinge they end up repeatly flexing their lumbar spine.
-Hammer hip & t-spine mobility
If they lack mobility here, they find it elsewhere, resulting in increased load on the spine.
-Emphasize core stability
Specifically focus on anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion exercises.
5) The most dangerous position is the catch
-We need to teach athletes to instinctively activate their core to help protect their spine. Activation of the transverse abdominis and obliques, and developing infra abdominal pressure could help protect the spine.
Exercises that seem to fit the bill:
- breathing exercises
- anti rotation holds at the catch
- rotary suitcase holds
6) Avoid heavy low rate pieces
-These place excess stress on the back
7) Change can be good
-Don't reinvent the wheel, but always search for better ways of doing things.
8) Evaluation is key
- Keep track of everything you do and evaluate it honestly.
- Much of the learning process is discovered through trial and error.
Coaches tend to forget that athletes don't have the option to become a professional rower. If they did the chances of making it in professional sports are 1 in 12,000. Yet coaches treat rowing like a professional sport and they end up injuring athletes for the sake of their own egos. I hope that this article spurs some thought that results in smarter and safer training. It is possible to keep your athletes healthy, you just need to make it a priority. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. If I can help one more rower with this article it was worth my time and much more.
Blake is currently the Performance Coordinator for the Los Gatos Rowing Club in California. He has completed internships with Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, and Stanford Sports Performance. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Hagerman, Fritz. "Training the Energy Systems".
2) Stallard, M.C. "Backache in Oarsmen". British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1980; 8 (14) :105-108.
3) Hosea, Timothy and Hannfin, Jo. "Rowing Injuries". University orthopedic associates. 2012; 5.
4) Smoljanović T., Bojanić I., Hannafin J. A., Hren D., Delimar D., Pećina M. (2009) Traumatic and overuse injuries among international elite junior rowers. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 37 (6). pp. 1193-9.