SS 237 – Does Foam Rolling & Stretching Help with Recovery?

Episode 237 Show Notes

Grant and Heavey talk about stretching and foam rolling. They tackle a question from Dale from Botswana who is curious about whether you should be stretching before or after running. Does it reduce muscle soreness? Or should it be done as a standard activity on the day of the training to improve mobility or flexibility?


[05:00] Building Strength


The topic of stretching actually ties in well with foam rolling, especially when we talk about recovery, warmup, etc. Heavey has read this meta-analysis on foam rolling.


Static stretching can improve your range of motion over the short term. Many people stretch for injury prevention. But Heavey warns that caution should be taken here especially when considering something like strength training.


In creating an additional range of motion prior to lifting but your body is not accustomed to, you won’t necessarily have strength throughout that range of motion. This is a risk that hypermobile people have to concern themselves with.


If you create this additional range that you can move through but you haven’t built strength there, you might be increasing your chances of injury.  Eccentric loading is a pretty powerful tool for mitigating this.


[06:55] Example for Your Lower Body


For instance, you can do a weighted RDL for your lower body. You can hold a kettlebell and at the first point of resistance in the RDL as you’re lowering your chest forward and you send your hips back, you take a pause and exhale.


These are great as they can help you improve your range of motion long-term. It also incorporates muscle activation and helps you build strength throughout that range of motion. This is a really important factor.


[07:50] Example for Your Upper Body


For instance, you can lay down with your back on the floor and you put your feet on the ground with your knees up. Hold a PVC at the top of the bench press and put a small ankle weight around that pipe or about 2.5-pound change plate. Then slowly lower the PVC over your head.


This can help you get that overhead position that a lot of people struggle with. It’s the same procedure where you lower to that sticking point. Do an exhale and then lower that back down even further for a couple more reps and sets. This can be very beneficial for developing strength in additional ranges of motion.


[09:12] Is Static Stretching Good for Warm-Up?


Mobility is not the end goal in Dale’s case. Heavey thinks a lot of people just stretch because that’s you’re supposed to. But is there a good reason to do it?


Some people consider stretching as their warm-up but it may not be the best thing to do. But it’s known that doing extended static stretching for more than 60 seconds at a hold can lead to a decrease in power. It inhibits powerful sports and activities like vertical jumping and weightlifting.


A huge meta-analysis found that it’s detrimental to do static stretching prior to those types of activities. But Heavey thinks the study is a little overblown. In a realistic environment, you might start by doing some stretching and then go do a more dynamic warm-up. In those scenarios, Heavey doesn’t think the risk of performance detriment is that high.


Another study did compare static stretching to dynamic stretching to no stretching at all. They found that both forms of stretching were effective at increasing range of motion. But the dynamic stretching was the only form that led to improved performance in vertical jump test.


That being said, there’s this tendency among certain gym populations to totally overdo the warmup that can be detrimental to the performance.


[12:10] Shorter Warmup Means Better Performance


In a study performed on cyclists, a group performed a tried and true warmup protocol against another group that did a much-reduced warmup protocol. Then they worked up a couple of sprints and ultimately doing a Wingate test, which is a peak anaerobic power test.


They found that the group that did the shorter warmup actually performed much better. And people that are warming up longer than they’re working out are getting less of their workout.


If your ultimate goal is just to burn calories, a warm-up longer than your workout such as riding a bike is fine. But if you want to put on more muscle, you won’t be able to push as hard as you would have otherwise when you’re lifting. This will ultimately diminish what you’re going to get out of that training session. So it really comes down to what your objectives are.


[14:50] Warmups in Crossfit


CrossFit can have up to 30-minute warm-ups depending on the upcoming wod.  Many people don’t take the attention to warm up properly before very intense activities. As a general rule, the more intense the activity, the more of a warm-up you’d probably need.


And for a CrossFit workout which is short yet high intensity, you might require a longer warm-up for that. It’s doing those shorter but much higher intensity bouts of effort that often lead to injury with improper warmups.


[16:00] How Your Warmup Could Look Like


Stretching can be part of a warmup. What that would be would depend on what you’re doing. For instance, Heavey gives us a concrete picture of how he does this. As he was going to do some squats, he started the session with some 5 minutes on the AirBike to get the blood flow going. Then he’d do dynamic weighted stretching on your ankles because he has some problem spots, specifically severe ankle sprains, which gave him trouble squatting ever since. Then he spent a little time working up to his ultimate weight for his working sets.


No need to get more aggressive than that. He got his blood flowing. He worked on a couple of problem spots. He worked up with some lighter weights while focusing on his quality of movement. Then he got into his working sets.


All this being said, Grant points out that the intensity planned on that workout will somehow dictate whether or not stretching is needed for warm-up.


[19:45] Stretching Post-Exercise and Foam Rolling


Heavey found A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. In the study, they looked at the effects of foam rolling pre and post-exercise. They concluded 21 different studies looking at over 400 participants.


The study found that when rolling before the exercise, 58% of the population is likely to experience in increased strength performance but the magnitude is very small at 0.7%. This could make a big difference for the elite levels, but it’s probably inconsequential for recreational athletes.


The largest effect of pre-rolling was flexibility. 62% of the population that rolled before exercise experienced a short-term improvement in their flexibility. Again, whether that’s good or bad depends on what they were doing that day.


[21:17] Flexibility, Stretching, and Yoga


Heavey believes flexibility is important. Most of us accumulate bad postures each day such as sitting all day that leads to rounded shoulders and short hamstrings. Stretching is one tool to address this.


Moreover, people have this notion that yoga might be good for them. They think it’s all about stretching so it must be good and so they try to connect dots with that. But there’s a lot more nuance to this.


Stretching and yoga are not synonymous. First of all, there’s a lot of different types of yoga. Secondly, a session of yoga would include a lot of body weight, strength-training type of activities that you’d be doing, primarily involving dynamic movements as you’re moving from one position to another. So you’re not necessarily just holding stretches for an extended period of time.


And because of the inclusion of bodyweight exercises, you are building strength in those ranges of motion too.


[24:06] Enhanced Recovery with Post-Rolling


Back to the foam rolling study, 62% had enhanced recovery from sprints and 58% had enhanced recovery from strength training when post-rolling. The improvements were 3.1% and 3.9%, respectively.


Heavey suggests that if you’re somebody who struggles with recovery or soreness, then you could experiment on this to see your response to it.


The largest effect of foam rolling across the entire study was alleviating perceived muscle pain. 66% of the population that rolled after their session was likely to experience a decrease in muscle pain from their training session.


In the light of this study, it appears foam rolling may help with muscle soreness.


[26:43] To Foam Roll or Not


The baseline fitness level of the participant is important to know as well. If you sit stationary all day, then it could be important to have more warm-up. Again, how much static stretching to be done depends on what people look like.  But Heavey recommends a more dynamic warmup.


With foam rolling, this is something you might want to consider if you’re into top levels of competition. A small percent can make a difference between winning and losing. But below that, it may not be as significant.


[29:00] The Painkiller (Drink!)


Grant and Heavey give their take on The Painkiller. It actually originates from the Soggy Dollar Bar at Jost Van Dyke. This is much simpler to make compared to the Bushwacker. It’s not blended. It’s only a mixture of orange juice and pineapple juice, added with some coconut cream and rum. That’s it!


The idea of this drink is to have just enough booze to kill the pain without being too much. Best of all, it’s got shaved fresh nutmeg on the top!


A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery

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