Sometimes people ask us whether it is always necessary for them to do foam rolling before performing lower body exercises such as squats. The question usually comes up because they are finding the rolling takes up quite a lot of their scarce time, which they feel should be set aside for exercise.
There is no doubt about it, lower body foam rolling can be very time consuming. In our self-treatment videos, part 3a and part 3b, we go through six basic foam rolls we recommend for people suffering from knee pain. Even if you were only going to spend a minute on each roll, that would take up 12 minutes (one roll for each side of the body) – more like 15 minutes if we include time to transition between each roll. Those with particularly stubborn knots in their muscles might not find this is enough time and it would take even longer. Explained like this, it’s easy to see how this sort of work can eat into a training session.
How much foam rolling do you need?
The answer to whether foam rolling is always required depends on what stage you are in your training, and whether you are recovering from an injury:
- If you are a total beginner to exercises like squats, or if you are currently treating an injury such as patellofemoral pain, it is always best to do some foam rolling before each session.Often beginners and the injured will feel too much discomfort in their joints if they start exercise without an initial foam roll.
- Those with more experience of squat training will have a greater awareness of how their body is feeling going into the session. If pushed for time, these people may be able to judge, from a bodyweight warm-up set, what tissues (if any) are feeling tight on that day and thus need some rolling – hence facilitating an abbreviated, targeted rolling session.
- The ideal stage is to be so advanced and proficient at your movements, in and out of the gym, that your movement quality alone is sufficient to keep your tissues in a good enough and healthy state not to require frequent massage from foam rolling. These people might only need to do soft-tissue work once a week for general maintenance. Such people would also most probably need a roller firmer than foam (such as a PVC pipe) as their tissue quality will be so good that only the firmest pressure on the very deepest tissues will have any effect.
Note that in the above range, even in the most experienced category, some soft-tissue work at some times is still recommended. This is because no matter how good our intentions are, we will not always be able to move perfectly: things will go wrong, particularly if we are training hard and striving to get stronger or improve our performance. This will lead to the development of trigger points and tightness in our muscles, which will require ironing out with foam rolling.
So is foam rolling always necessary before doing your squats? No, it won’t be as you continue to improve. But foam rolling should always be part of your routines; at least weekly, if not day to day.