Foam Rolling, Steel Bar Rolling, etc. Torture or beneficial?


Well-Known Member
Nov 24, 2012
Anyone do this? Does it work? Do you like it?

My one personal trainer is convinced that this is a really beneficial practice, and wants me to start doing it at home every day, and after every workout. He's done it a couple of times to me, and had me do it to myself a number of times now.

I hate it. It hurts like a mf - and, while I can joke around about what a wuss I am, I can in actuality take a hell of a lot of pain. So, when I say something hurts, it hurts. Yesterday, he used a steel bar to roll my legs, and I thought I was going to die. The muscles were actually going into tremor as he did it. I had to hold back the tears, it hurt that much. Now, don't get me wrong, I trust the kid, and he is trained but not practicing yet as a physical therapist. He wasn't "doing it wrong" or using excess pressure, from what I can tell based on my experiences and in talking to others at my gym. It just hurt, that's the nature of the beast. There is a big group of foam roller junkies there who do it every workout, and they seem addicted to it, so there has to be value in it, right? They all tell me how much it hurts, but its worth it.

It does seem to feel better afterwards. But, is it really necessary to undergo torture just to relieve muscle tension? Seems like a nice soak in the hot tub does the same thing for me, but what do I know?

TIA for any opinions or information.
TIA? This is Africa? Sorry, that's my Blood Diamond joke. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend.

The rollers aim to duplicate the effect of the effleurage stroke during a massage. It shouldn't hurt though, a little discomfort is fine. However if the pressure is causing the muscle to tense (i.e. to accommodate the "pain" you are feeling) the effect is likely going to be counterproductive. Massage is like anything though, the more you receive the more you are likely able to tolerate. Increases in pressure should be gradual, from a micro cycle (within a massage) to a macro cycle (over the course of several massages).

When the rollers are used solo they usually rely on one's body weight to provide the pressure, versus a massage therapist whom you would be able to indicate you would like more or less pressure, they are often a lousy compromise to the real thing.

As your trainer is using the rollers on you, I would recommend asking him to ease up a bit. I don't pay my rent as a swany anymore but I was once a licensed NYS massage therapist and worked on many athletes including a number of bike racers over several years. Massage is a tremendous tool for an athletes recovery and it is doubtful pro riders could make it through the grand tours with a shot at the podium without daily massage. It's one of the reasons these guys shave their legs - it feels better receiving, and it's easier on the swany's (soigneur's) hands.

Massage basically helps move the blood without any work on the recipients part. Zone1 rides aim to serve a similar purpose and as such are often called "recovery" rides. The contraction of the heart pumps oxygenated blood into the arteries, traveling to much of the body with gravity's assistance. On the return journey (from below the heart), it's mostly blood pressure assisted by some one-way valves doing the work of bringing the de-oxygenated blood back via the veins to repeat the process. Massage facilitates this return and by doing so also helps speed up the removal of metabolic waste products including excess blood lactate. Additionally it helps promote relaxation, that is if it feels GOOD, which for the most part it's supposed to even when deeper effleurage and petrissage are applied (there are exceptions, which should mostly belong in the realm of massage techniques like "friction", which often live in the realm of deep tissue and medical massage treating conditions like sciatica, chondromalatia patella, carpal tunnel, piriformis syndrome, etc.). Any coconut who thinks it should hurt is a hack. Any therapist worth their salt should be using a pressure scale, 1-10, 10 being the most extreme, 7 being tolerable without needing to contract the muscle to fight off the discomfort, and should be checking in regularly, simply saying something like "does that feel ok". It's not rocket science. Sounds like your guy is going straight to "11".

If your trainer doesn't think you should have any say in the process, find a new one. That's my (former) professional opinion.

Btw, a soak in hot tub right after a hard workout can increase blood flow to the area, potentially increasing the swelling of a sore muscle. If you haven't overdone it there's usually not a problem. Heat is fine in the chronic phase, cold (ice) is usually better in the acute phase (like in the first 12-24 hours of a sprained ankle for instance). It causes the cell to contract, forcing fluids out, minimizing the swelling. And as the body usually overcompensates when injured, that's often a good thing. I knew of a coach who would have his riders stand in the ocean up to their waists after intervals to decrease the inflammation, much like I would put my hands in a bucket of ice water for 20 minutes after 8 hours on the clock as a massage therapist. Simply put if I had not iced my hands after every shift, I would not have been able to put in 40 hours a week on the floor. YMMV.
Don't do it if it hurts. you can damage your body by putting too much pressure on certain places. be very careful with the solid rollers.