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Triathlon Success: Myofascial Management

Triathlon training is a vigorous and demanding athletic endeavor. The successful triathlete is often the one with the fewest injuries and the best recovery capacity.  Soft tissue mobilization with a roller helps decrease pain, improve mobility, and will speed up recovery between bouts of exercise.  Few of us can afford or dedicate the time to a daily massage.  The roller is the best do-it-yourself method of enhancing myofascial recovery.  Triathletes should begin every training session with five to ten minutes of roller work.

In the book, Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers describes the interconnected webs of fascia and muscles that move our joints and hold us upright.  The human body is not just isolated muscles, but rather a series of interconnected lines of muscles and fascia that are reliant on one another to produce efficient movement.  The mechanical stress created by a roller keeps the tissue lines sliding and gliding across one another.  It removes neural and mechanical inhibitors of movement and makes exercise easier.

More varieties of rollers have come on the market and whenever we are faced with a lot of choices, it becomes more difficult to make a decision.  In this short presentation, I have some suggestions on the proper roller for the job.

Rollers are available in three foot and one foot lengths.  I find the longer versions easier to use.  Bigger and taller athletes generally do not do well with a short roller.

The best roller for you will depend on your tissue tolerance or how sensitive you are to the compressive forces of the roller.  If you are new to foam rolling, a low density white foam roller is softer and will create less discomfort.  As you develop better tolerance to rolling, you can progress to a firmer black foam roll.  It has been my experience that the white rolls break down faster than the firmer black versions, so be prepared to replace a white roll fairly often.

Hollow, pipe style rollers are newer to the market and I have had good results with two products.  The Grid Trigger Point roller is a cushioned hollow pipe with a grid pattern across the surface of the roller.  Many smaller clients and patients report they like the short version of the Grid roller.  Another hollow pipe version is the Rumble Roller.  This product has a series of projections that extend from the roller surface.  Self-soft tissue mobilization with a Rumble Roller is more uncomfortable than any other roller I have used.   It is a more aggressive treatment, but I have found it works well for individuals with thicker and denser muscles.

So how often should you, a triathlete, use a roller?  I like to stay active, pain free, and maintain my posture, so I use a roller every day.  Physical therapy patients with painful myofascial restrictions may need to foam roll two or three times a day.  Including five to ten minutes of foam rolling prior to a training session is the preventative medicine that will keep you on the road and out of the doctor’s office.  Watch the video that accompanies this article and get going on a roller.

View video here: Roller Video

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

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