Sports Performance Training

Periodization as a Strategy, Not a Tactic –

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By Karsten Jensen

Periodization is a controversial topic within our field and has been since I started training back in 1992.  Whether you believe in periodization or not for your athletes, this article will shed some light on the topic.  Enjoy!

 

Below are some of the critique points that I have come across in recent years:

  • Periodization is not scientifically proven.
  • Periodization is overrated and over studied.
  • Periodization is too rigid and does not work for our athletes.
  • Periodization is too time-consuming.
  • Periodization is too complex and only for people in lab coats

These critique points may be true if your understanding of Periodization is limited to Periodization as a tactic. However, Periodization is fundamentally a strategy.

From my personal experience as a strength coach, author, and lecturer over the last 25 years, I have found it incredibly useful – even absolutely necessary – to distinguish between principles, strategies, and tactics in order to really understand a particular topic.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to

  • Highlight the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics as it applies to Periodization.
  • Show that you can reject any one example of Periodization as a tactic, but you cannot reject Periodization as a strategy (and this insight will be extremely helpful)

What is a principle?

A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (thefreedictionary.com).  A first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

What could be deemed the first principle of athletic development? I recommend that you answer that in detail for yourself in a way that resonates with your work.

My background is strength and conditioning, not coaching a specific sport. Thus, here is a suggestion for the 1st Principle of  Athletic Development as centered on the physical side:

Optimal development of bio-motor abilities (physical qualities) to support the ability to practice and compete (the specific sport/s) – with maximal quality – at the desired level, at a given age.

You could say that a principle is vague. However, the above phrase invites critical questions and consequences:

  • What does optimal mean? It is the balance of all involved abilities that support the young athlete’s ability to practice and compete.
  • Supporting the ability to practice and compete with maximal quality implies prevention of injury and the nourishment of motivation, joy and confidence.

Thus, the 1st Principle defines the overall objective of our work as coaches.

How are we going to achieve this objective?

principle strategy tactic

Figure 1: The overarching task is defining the 1st Principle. The strategy is chosen to achieve the 1st Principle. Tactics are used to execute the strategy.

 

A Strategy is Chosen to Achieve the Objective That is Defined by the 1st Principle

A strategy is the larger, overall plan designed to achieve a major or overall aim. The strategy will be comprised of several tactics.  A strategy is broad, big-picture and future-oriented (1)

The training literature contains multiple but related definitions of Periodization. (2)  Fundamentally, the word periodization means “a division in to periods.”

If you do a web search with the word periodization, you will find books on sports training, history and geology.

Thus, “periodization” is a word similar to “categorization” (dividing items – for example, apples divided into categories) or classification (for example dividing athletes into age groups, levels or weight classes).

From the definition of periodization as a ‘division into periods” it becomes clear that, fundamentally, periodization is a strategy for organizing long-term training by dividing the training into shorter periods.

We can take this definition a step further and suggest a more training-specific definition of periodization:

“Periodization is a division of a longer training cycle into periods with different goals, structures, and content of the training program.  When these periods are sequenced in such a way that the training adaptations in one period prepare the athlete for the training in the next period, then the selected physical abilities are optimized at the goal-attainment date.”

The above definition highlights why periodization as a strategy is virtually unavoidable unless your training programs always:

  • Are geared toward the same training adaptation
  • Have the same structure
  • Have the same content

Tactics

Clearly, there are more decisions to be made before we have a finished program. These more detailed decisions are the “tactics.” The strategy can be executed with different tactics.  Tactics are plans, tasks, or procedures that can be carried out. Tactics may be part of a larger strategy.

So far, Linear Periodization, Reverse Linear Periodization, Undulating Periodization, and Block Periodization are the only systems that have been researched in controlled studies. These systems are all periodization tactics.

I have never seen a critique of periodization as a strategy. When I have seen a critique of periodization, the critique has been of a particular periodization tactic.

As a trainer, you can look at any one of those systems and decide whether or not they are not ideal tactics for the athletes that you work.

However, once you make that choice, you still have to decide how are you going to organize your long-term training?

Conclusion

This article described a hierarchy of 1st principles, strategy, and tactics. It made the argument that periodization is fundamentally a strategy. Yet, the critique of periodization is typically centered on tactics rather than principles or strategies.

A “next step” in exploring periodization is the question about how to divide the long-term period into shorter periods as well as a deeper look into the characteristics of the mentioned periodization systems.  More to come….

  1. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Strategy_vs_Tactic
  2. Jensen, K. Appendix 1. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on the Fly. www.yestostrength.com

 

Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at www.yestostrength.com

3 Reasons Distance Runners Shouldn’t Skip Strength Training

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Distance runners often intuitively feel that the only way to improve running performance is to increase mileage and run more.

Although this approach will work for a while, you will eventfully reach a point of diminishing returns. Once you’ve hit that juncture, any additional running will not bring many benefits in terms of improving performance, but the injury risk will continue to increase.

With each step, you make contact with the ground. Those contacts create impact forces that travel through your body and need to be absorbed somewhere. If your muscles are not strong enough to absorb this load, connective tissues like tendons and bones will suffer most. This may eventually lead to many of the most feared injuries amongst runners like stress fractures, IT band, and tendon problems.

The logical way to improve muscle strength and avoid many of the previously mentioned issues is to incorporate strength training into your routine. But distance runners often fear weight training will make them slow and bulky, as carrying the extra weight of added muscle mass means more work on every stride. However, research has found that if the strength training is performed complementary to your running, this won’t be the case. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that “40 weeks of strength training can significantly improve maximal- and reactive-strength qualities, (running economy) and (velocity at maximal oxygen uptake), without concomitant hypertrophy, in competitive distance runners.” That means the runners became stronger, more efficient runners without experiencing significant changes in body composition.

But stepping into the weight room and performing hours of Biceps Curls isn’t going to get distance runners the results they want. Exercise programs we create for runners need to take into account their running training, address specific weaknesses, and focus on specific physical qualities that will have a high transfer to running.

With that in mind, here are three benefits well-implemented strength training offers distance runners.

1. Better Running Efficiency

Like the fuel economy of a car, the less energy and oxygen used at a certain pace, the longer you can run at that specific speed. For distance runners, this means you can maintain higher speeds during your runs, which translates to better times. In addition to the study discussed above, a 2013 study found that runners who incorporated strength training as a part of their training improved running economy by more than 6 percent! And again, this improvement in running economy came about in the absence of any increases in body weight or muscle size.

2. Increase in Running Speed

Aside from incorporating hill running, tempo running, sprint and interval running, if you want to fully develop your speed potential, strength training is a must. Developing adequate muscle strength will provide a base for power training, which will rely on that strength to convert it to speed. Greater muscle strength relative to your body weight, as was achieved in the aforementioned study, means greater potential to further develop running speed.

3. Injury Prevention

A stronger body and stronger muscles are better able to absorb impact forces and resist injuries. By incorporating progressive overload with strength training, we are not just improving muscle strength, but also getting our tendons, ligaments and bones thicker and stronger.

Having adequate muscle strength means muscles are able to properly stabilize joints and allow expression of proper running form. This usually means reduction or prevention of pelvic drop, crossover, or even the heel strike pattern.

As a result of the repetitive nature of the sport, runners tend to develop asymmetries and weaknesses at specific points along the kinetic chain. This leads to an over-reliance on one side, which can cause overuse injuries on that side. Properly designed strength training will reduce or eliminate these asymmetries and weak points and thereby reduce the risk of injuries.

Aside from all the previously mentioned benefits to running, strength training has many other benefits that make it worth investing extra effort and/or energy in making it part of your exercise routine. The good news is that you don’t have to do much right away to experience these benefits. Start slow, make it a habit, and over time, as you get more advanced, start increasing the volume and intensity of your strength training.

Thanks to Stack.com and Nemanja Sambaher – Nemanja Sambaher is a Certified Personal Trainer and Registered Kinesiologist in Toronto, Ontario with a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology.

Improve Speed Now!

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Part 1: Actual Drills to improve speed ASAP.
by Kevin Haag, CSCS. Speed and Agility Coach

We are starting with the actually drill so that our young athletes can practice them and improve on-field speed immediately.  Be sure to check with your coach to make sure they are being done perfectly!!

I Believe, (Speed = Biomechanics + Force + Power)

Therefore

  • Step 1) Learn Proper Sprinting Mechanics and Fundamentals
  • Step 2) Increase Power – You need muscles to move fast
  • Step 3) Generate force into the ground

Speed is a skill….Skills are learned……so, therefore speed can be learned:

Below are 3 drills to improve each of these areas.  For you to elicit change in your body, you must perform these drills at 100% and with consistency.  Not in any area of life, will 1 hour a week change or improve anything. Perform these drills 3 times a week for immediate results.

Fundamental Mechanics of Sprinting

Although not an individual segment of mechanics in sprinting, posture is the foundation that allows the other techniques to be performed properly. Listed below are components of posture:

  1. Erect body with hips under the center of mass
  2. The head is looking straight with the chin slightly in.
  3. The pelvis should be neutral or slightly posterior to allow for complete cycling of the legs.
  4. The chest should be up and the shoulders back (neutral) to allow for proper swing action of the arms from the shoulder joint.

Once proper posture is established, the actions of the legs and the phases in which they should go through will be more efficient.

 

Step 1: Mechanics Drills

  1. Seated Arm Action.Arm Speed Controls Leg Speed) 1) Rotation at shoulder 2) Elbow at 90 degrees 3) Thumb moves from cheek-to-cheek
  2. Wall Drill – 1 – 3 – 5 Counts. Set-up: Straight Line from head-shoulders-hips-knees-ankle. Wall: wrists at shoulder height
  3. Acceleration A-Run. Faster Movement with High Knees

Step 3 Power Drills: Get Stronger and more powerful

Step 2 Force Drills:  Put Force into the ground

 

 

Preseason Basketball Training

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By Tim DiFrancesco, former head strength coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.

A preseason basketball workout program should prepare your body for the movement skills of the game—jumping, landing, acceleration and deceleration.

“You need to prepare your body to be fluid and able to execute those skills with repetition,” he says. “This will prepare your bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles for those types of actions, which you’ll be doing more and more of as you get into the season.”

Many basketball players fail to take this into account with their training. They fall prey to old-school preseason workouts that emphasize long-distance running to improve conditioning, but fail to address the many other aspects of the game. Worse, they often set themselves up for injury by causing their bodies to break down before the season even begins.

“A lot of players come in and are more prepared to run a marathon than to play an acceleration-, deceleration-, jump- and landing-based sport with physical contact and short-burst energy system requirements,” he adds.

Exactly as we do at K2, DiFrancesco’s solution is a workout program that pairs plyometric and strength exercises together. He explains this formula is the ideal way to improve both performance and durability, which are equally crucial to a healthy and productive season.

preseason basketball workout

Preseason Basketball Workout

DiFrancesco’s plan features three workouts per week. These workouts should be done in the four weeks leading up to your season, and can be completed if you’re currently playing fall basketball or another sport.

Each workout is broken up into two tri-sets—a tri-set is essentially a superset with three exercises. The first exercise is a lower-body strength move, which is followed by a lower-body plyometric (except for Farmer’s Walks on Day 3). The tri-sets finish with an upper-body strength or core exercise. Many of the exercises are single-arm/leg or lateral moves to prepare your body for moving in multiple directions in a game.

Here’s how to use the plan:

– You’ll notice that each exercise has four rep prescriptions separated by a forward slash (3×6/8/10/12), which indicates the number of reps you’ll perform on Week 1, 2, 3 and 4. In this instance, you’d do 3 sets of 6 reps on Week 1, 3 sets of 8 reps on Week 2 and so on.

– Perform the exercises back to back to complete a set of the tri-set. Then work your way back through the exercises for another set, and once again for a third set.

– Moving through this with minimal rest between exercises will provide an excellent conditioning effect, but make sure to rest when needed to maintain proper exercise form.

– These workouts are fairly short but that’s all you need. If you stick to the plan as written, this is more than enough to challenge your body and make you a better athlete.

– Choose a weight that allows you to complete every rep for each set with perfect form. The goal here is quality reps to build a stronger and more durable body, not to get hurt attempting to lift a weight that’s far too heavy.

– Do the workouts on non-consecutive days to allow your muscles to recover between workouts.

– Finally, stay consistent!

Day 1

1A) Barbell Rack Pulls – 3×6/8/10/12

1B) Broad Jump – 3×4/6/8/10

1C) Push-Up – 3×8/10/12/15

2A) Goblet Squat – 3×6/8/10/12

2B) Squat Jump – 3×4/6/8/10

2C) Chin-Up – 3×4/6/8/10

Day 2

1A) Goblet Lateral Squat – 3×4/5/6/8 each side

1B) Skater Jump – 3×10/12/16/20

1C) Dumbbell Single-Arm Row – 3×8/10/12/15 each side

2A) Kettlebell Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat – 3×5/6/8/10 each side

2B) Split Squat Jumps – 3×4/6/8/10

2C) Dumbbell Incline Bench Press – 3×8/10/12/15

Day 3

1A) Dumbbell Single-Leg RDL – 3×4/5/6/8 each side

1B) Bounding – 3×10/12/16/20

1C) Band/Cable Half-Kneeling Single-Arm V Row – 3×6/8/10/12 each side

2A) Dumbbell Hip Thrust – 3×8/10/12/15

2B) Farmer’s Walk – 3x10yd/15yd/20yd/30yd

2C) Squat Stance Pallof Press – 3×8/10/12/15 each side

How Survival Instincts Drive Speed Development

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Written on September 25, 2017 at 6:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

 

As a kid, I was a big fan of “The Flintstones.” I loved how Fred and Barney could run so fast. I can remember when they were chased by a Sabretooth Tiger; it was amazing how they could escape so quickly. Hmm, maybe there is something to that…

Fast forward to 2017, I still love speed. But now, I actually study it. I continually ask myself the question; “Why were humans given the ability to have speed and quickness?” This question has taken me down a road not many speed coaches travel. Many of these coaches like the traditional route of current methods of training. That’s cool, and in most cases, proves to be quite successful. But…

What if coaches would investigate more down the road of our human history? What if they allowed themselves to be vulnerable to the ways of how we escaped or attacked for survival? How would they think differently about speed?

What if we asked the question, “Why were we given the ability to have speed and quickness?” What can we learn when we venture down that path?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Survival drives us through channels not so easily understood from a Central Nervous System (CNS) standpoint. We have to bow down to the subconscious effort that makes us move quickly on instinct or reflex. This is harder to understand, so we try to ignore it as a viable option for speed training.

2. Playing competitive sports actually taps into our CNS – or should I go deeper and say our “sympathetic nervous system?” This is where our heightened awareness of our surroundings kicks in. If I am caught in a rundown in baseball – or going to be tackled in football, or being chased during soccer i- it takes us to a level of effort we don’t commonly experience in our daily lives.

3. Our body kicks into what we call fight or flight: the survival mode. This occurs all the time during sports competition. It drives us to make incredible speedy plays. It forces us to react in such a way that our feet move quicker than our conscious mind can drive them. This is where I want to concentrate on for the rest of this article. I want to share with you strategies to make you faster!

Repositioning

Repositioning is a term I use to relate to how an athlete moves his or her feet quickly into a more effective angle to either accelerate or decelerate the body. Terms I have used to describe repositioning are:

Plyo Step: The plyo step is an action that occurs when one foot is repositioned behind, to the side, or at any angle behind the body. This act quickly drives the body in a new direction of travel.

Hip Turn: This is basically the same as the plyo step except the athlete turns and accelerate back away from the direction they were facing. Repositioning occurs to find an angle to push the body in that direction.

Directional Step: Think base-stealing. The athlete will face sideways but turn and run. The front foot opens to be in a greater supportive position to push down and back during acceleration steps.

The goal is to get into acceleration posture as quickly as possible to make a play when one of these repositioning steps occur.

A great drill to work on repositioning is what I call “Ball Drops.”

a. Simply have a partner or coach stand 10-15 feet away from the athlete with a tennis ball held out at shoulder height.

b. The athlete is in an athletic parallel stance facing the coach, turned sideways, or back facing- depending on the drill.

c. The coach will drop the ball and the athlete must accelerate to catch the ball before the 2nd bounce. I encourage the coach to use the command “Go” at the exact time of the drop to help when vision is not an option.

The action you will see 99.9% of the time is a repositioning or a hip turn or plyo step (the directional step is the act of preparing the front leg for push off; it angles in the direction of travel). Perform this drill facing forwards for four reps, sideways for four reps, and backwards for four reps (2 to each side for the side-facing and back-facing). Perform this drill 2-3x per week to tap into the “fight or flight” response.

Reactive Shuffle or Crossover

In this drill, the focus is on reacting to either a partner (like a mirror drill) or the coaches signal to go right or left.

a. The athlete gets in a great defensive stance and prepares to explode to her right or left.

b. The coach will quickly point in either direction.

c. The athlete will create quick force into the ground in the opposite direction of travel. Typically, there will be a repositioning step unless the athlete starts in a wide stance where outward pressure is effective in the current stance.

d. As soon as the athlete shuffles one to two times, he will shuffle back.

e. The same drill is repeated, but now using a crossover step.

Perform 3-4 sets of ten seconds of both the shuffle and crossover drill. Allow 40-60s of recovery between bouts.

Shuffle

Partner Mirror

Crossover with Directional Step

Hip Turn to Crossover

The final skill I want to write about might be one of the most important “survival” speed skills an athlete can have. It falls under the “retreating” set of skills where the athlete moves back away from the direction they are initially facing.

The hip turn can allow an athlete to escape or attack. The critical features are:

1. The athlete must “stay in the tunnel.” Do not rise up and down; stay level.

2. By staying level, the immediate repositioning that takes place allows for a great push off angle to move the body in a new direction.

3. The athlete should attempt to create length and cover distance quickly. Short choppy steps are not effective when in “survival mode.” GET MOVING!

4. In the snapshots below, the athlete is performing a hip turn based on the coaches command or signal. The athlete will perform a hip turn and either a shuffle, crossover, or run – and then recover back to the start position as soon as possible!

Perform 3-4 sets of 7-10s of work. If quickness/speed is the goal we want to do it in short bursts of time and not long duration where speed in compromised. Recover for roughly 45 seconds and repeat.

Now, I know it sounds kind of crazy to be talking about survival, cavemen, and “fight or flight” when we are referring to speed, but we have to always look at the genesis of all things. Animals that don’t have reactive speed have other ways to protect themselves. Humans have intelligence and the ability to escape or attack using systems derived out of our CNS to help us use our speed. Our job as coaches is to tap into this ability and use it to help our athletes “naturally” move fast!

Are You Ready For Spring Sports

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The crack of a baseball blasted over the fence; the whack of a golf ball blasted off the tee; the sound of lacrosse pads smashing against each other. These are all signs spring is in the air, and with it, spring training for many of our children.

Are you ready?  Are you physically ready for the season?    Not just ready to run sprints on the first day of practice, but strong enough to complete day-in and day-out for the next 3 months.

are-you-ready

We’re encouraging our student-athletes to follow their training guidelines, eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids, and most importantly, listen to their bodies. Minor aches and pains from training and activating those dormant muscles are normal, but prolonged pain that causes difficulties with your training regimen is not and may be a sign of injury.

More than 2.6 million children are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.

Sadly, many of these injuries can be prevented through proper training, which MUST include muscle prep activities such as foam rolling and stretching.

Athletes must listen to their body as spring training gets underway and see your healthcare professional when those minor aches persist. There are so many treatment options as basic as the use of ice packs and cold compresses to myofascial release which will improve your injury recovery.

These are a couple steps to stay healthy during spring training and through the season:

  • Get a physical. Ask your primary care physician to give you a physical exam. He or she can then clear you for participation in your sport.
  • Seek support. Your school has athletic trainers, use them. They can guide your training efforts and help you safely prepare your body for your sport.
  • Protect yourself. Use the correct protective gear for your sport – helmets, knee and elbow pads, goggles, ankle braces, etc. Make sure your protective gear fits, is worn correctly and is in good condition.
  • Practice your form. This can prevent many sports-related injuries resulting from improper swings, kicks, throws and other sports mechanics.
  • Make sure you hydrate. Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of fluids, preferably water. Sports drinks are OK, too.
  • Get enough rest. Your muscles need some time off to heal and ultimately help you get stronger. Plus, resting prevents your muscles from becoming overused which can lead to injury.
  • Take care of your head. All concussions are serious. They can lead to a host of problems including, but not limited to, nausea and vomiting, headache, mood swings, altered sleep patterns and more.

Spring training brings with it renewed championship hopes and dreams. Do your part to make sure you perform your best this season without having to experience an avoidable injury.

As always, K2 is here to help you get ready for the spring season!!  You can check out our schedule  at http://www.k2strength.com/schedule.html.

If you are looking to take your game to the next level and stay strong all season long…… K2 is the place to be!

Please call me if you have any questions and / or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kevin Haag
908-803-8019 (Call or Text)

 

Foam Rolling for Athletes

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by Michael Boyle, MS, ATC

anna-on-roller
Anna working on spine mobility

A decade ago, strength coaches and athletic trainers would have looked quizzically at a 36-inch long cylindrical piece of foam and wondered, “What is that for?” Today, nearly every athletic training room and most strength and conditioning facilities contain an array of foam rollers of different lengths and consistencies.

What happened to bring foam rollers into prominence? The change has been in our attitude toward massage therapy. We have been slowly moving away from an injury care mode of isokinetics and electronics to more European-inspired processes that focus on hands-on soft tissue care. We now realize that techniques like massage, Muscle Activation (MAT), and Active Release Therapy (ART) can work wonders for sore or injured athlete.

In addition, the understanding at the elite athlete level is: If you want to stay healthy, get a good manual therapist in your corner. Thus, athletes at all levels are starting to ask for some form of soft tissue care.

What does all this have to do with foam rollers? As coaches and athletic trainers watched elite-level athletes experience success from various soft tissue techniques, the obvious question arose: How can I make massage available to large groups of athletes at a reasonable cost? Enter the foam roller.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (www.nasm.org) President Michael Clark, DPT, MS, PT, NASM-PES, is credited by many-this author included-with exposing the sports medicine community to the foam roller. In one of Clark’s early manuals, he included a few photos of self-myofascial release using a foam roller. The technique illustrated was simple and self-explanatory: Get a foam roller and use your bodyweight to apply pressure to sore spots.

Since then, many of us have discovered more uses for foam rollers, including injury prevention and performance enhancement. We’ve also moved away from the accupressure concept and now use them more for self-massage. And we’ve come up with specific protocols for different situations.

Essentially, foam rollers are the poor man’s massage therapist. They provide soft tissue work to the masses in any setting. But you need to know their nuances to get the most out of them.

What, How & When

A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam. Think swimming pool noodles, but a little more dense and larger in diameter. They usually come in one-foot or three-foot lengths. I find the three-foot model works better, but it obviously takes up more space.

They are also now available in a number of densities from relatively soft foam (slightly harder than a pool noodle), to newer high-density rollers that feel much more solid. The denser the athlete, the more dense the roller should be. Large, heavily-muscled athletes will do better with a very high density roller whereas a smaller, younger athlete should begin with a less dense product.

The application techniques are simple. Clarke’s initial recommendation was based on an accupressure concept, in which pressure is placed on specific surfaces of the body. Athletes were instructed to use the roller to apply pressure to sensitive areas in their muscles-sometimes called trigger points, knots, or areas of increased muscle density. The idea was to allow athletes to apply pressure to injury-prone areas themselves.

The use of foam rollers has progressed in many circles from an accupressure approach to self-massage, which I’ve found to be more effective. The roller is now usually used to apply longer more sweeping strokes to the long muscle groups like the calves, adductors, and quadriceps, and small directed force to areas like the TFL, hip rotators, and glute medius.

Athletes are instructed to use the roller to search for tender areas or trigger points and to roll these areas to decrease density and over-activity of the muscle. With a little direction on where to look, most athletes easily find the tender spots on their own. However, they may need some instruction on the positioning of the roller, such as parallel, perpendicular, or 45 degrees, depending on the muscle.

The feel of the roller and intensity of the self-massage should be properly geared to the age, comfort, and fitness level of the athlete. This is one of the plusses of having the athlete roll themselves-they can control the intensity with their own body weight.

There is no universal agreement on when to roll, how often to roll, or how long to roll, but generally, techniques are used both before and after a workout. Foam rolling prior to a workout can help decrease muscle density and promote a better warmup. Rolling after a workout may help muscles recover from strenuous exercise.

My preference is to have athletes use the rollers before every workout. We also use them after a workout if athletes are sore.

One of the nice things about using the foam roller is that it can be done on a daily basis. In fact, in their book, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Clair Davies and Amber Davies recommend trigger point work up to 12 times a day in situations of acute pain.

How long an athlete rolls is also determined on a case-by-case basis. I usually allow five to 10 minutes for soft tissue activation work at the beginning of the session prior to warmup. If my athletes roll after their workout, it is done for the same length of time.

Some Specifics

While the foam roller can be used on almost any area of the body, I have found it works best on the lower extremities. There is not as much dense tissue in the upper body and our athletes are not prone to the same frequency of upper body strains as lower. The hamstrings and hip flexors seem to experience the most muscle strains, so we concentrate on those areas.

Here are some protocols I use:

Gluteus max and hip rotators: The athlete sits on the roller with a slight tilt and moves from the iliac crest to the hip joint to address the glute max. To address the hip rotators, the affected leg is crossed to place the hip rotator group in an elongated position. As a general rule of thumb, 10 slow rolls are done in each position (although there are no hard and fast rules for reps). Often athletes are simply encouraged to roll until the pain disappears.

TFL and Gluteus Medius: The tensor fasciae latae and gluteus medius, though small in size, are significant factors in anterior knee pain. To address the TFL, the athlete begins with the body prone and the edge of the roller placed over the TFL, just below the iliac crest

After working the TFL, the athlete turns 90 degrees to a side position and rolls from the hip joint to the iliac crest to address the gluteus medius.

Adductors: The adductors are probably the most neglected area of the lower body. A great deal of time and energy is focused on the quadriceps and hamstring groups and very little attention is paid to the adductors. There are two methods to roll the adductors. The first is a floor-based technique that works well for beginners. The user abducts the leg over the roller and places the roller at about a 60-degree angle to the leg. The rolling action begins just above the knee in the area of the vastus medialis and pes anserine, and should be done in three portions. To start, 10 short rolls are done covering about one third the length of the femur. Next, the roller is moved to the mid-point of the adductor group and again rolled 10 times in the middle third of the muscle. Last, the roller is positioned high into the groin almost to the pubic symphysis for a final set of 10 rolls.

The second technique for the adductors should be used after the athlete is comfortable with the first one. This exercise requires the athlete to sit on a training room table or the top of a plyometric box, which allows him or her to shift significantly more weight onto the roller and work deeper into the large adductor triangle. The athlete then performs the same rolling movements mentioned above.

Although I primarily use the rollers for athletes’ legs, they can also be used with upper extremities. The same techniques can be used for pecs, lats, and rotator cuffs, although with a much smaller amplitude-making the movements closer to accupressure.

Assessing Effectiveness

Foam rolling is hard work that can even border on being painful. Good massage work, and correspondingly good self-massage work, may be uncomfortable, much like stretching. Therefore, it is important that athletes learn to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort related to working a trigger point and a discomfort that can lead to injury.

When an athlete has completed foam rolling, he or she should feel better, not worse. And the rollers should never cause bruising. Ask the athlete how his or her muscles feel after each session to assess if the techniques are working.

I also judge whether foam rolling is working by monitoring compliance. If I don’t have to tell athletes to get out the foam roller before a workout, I know the techniques are working. Most do it without prompting as they see the benefits.

Rolling vs. Massage

The question often arises: “Which is better, massage therapy or a foam roller?” To me the answer is obvious: Hands-on work is better than foam. Hands are directly connected to the brain and can feel. A foam roller cannot feel. If cost was not an issue I would have a team of massage therapists on call for my athletes at all times.

However, having an abundance of massage therapists on staff is not in most of our budgets. Therein lies the beauty of the foam rollers: They provide unlimited self-massage for under $20. Sounds like a solution to me.


World famous strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle is Director of Elite Conditioning in Boston, MA. He is author of numerous videos and books and a featured speaker at seminars throughout the U.S, including Perform Better “Learn By Doing” Functional Training Seminars.