Contrarian Fitness (Why I hate foam rollers)

My inbox has been blowing up lately about a post coach Mike Boyle did entitled “Is Foam Rolling Bad For You?” (VA link title to
In it, coach Boyle referenced an article I wrote about 4 years ago about why I did not like the error erasing properties of the amazing  foam roller.
(VA link an article I wrote about 4 years ago  to   above)
“Don’t be fooled by internet writers looking to take a contrarian stance to get site hits.   Focus on results.” Coach Boyle
It seems I am the contrarian and not the results fitness guy now.  I guess with the following articles did not help my contrarian case.
Corrective Exercise
Foam Rolling
Get Off the Treadmill
Static stretching
Intermittent Fasting for Fat Loss
Keep in mind that I have 567 entries in the blog, so while they are not the main articles, they are up there in number.
Foam Rolling: The Early Years (H3)
However, I started out with quite the different view of each of those topics above.   If you looked back at a program I wrote for a client in 2005 it started with foam rolling and treadmill work!  Eeek.
Over time, while the foam roller seems to help in the session, it did not do anything long term to reduce his pain.  Each time he came back, I was having him roll his ITB.  He was yelping in pain and I would proclaim
“Ha!  See, it is painful, so it must be good.  That whole area is tight and needs to be rolled out.”
Hmmm, if that was so true, why was he still doing it with the EXACT same response 6 months later?
Broken To Better (H3)
It was around this time that I was so broken (by my own free will) that it took me almost an hour to lift anything in the gym!
I was foam rolling  while thinking that all those other goons in the gym don’t know anything since they are not using this amazing piece of equipment and I know what is going on!  Keep in mind this was around 2005 when I was much younger and knew everything.   Haha.
After foam rolling I would do some static stretching, dynamic mobility drills, joint mobility work and THEN start very light to progress on to my working sets over the next 20 minutes.   Yep, almost 1.5 hours into a training session before I would do my first working set.   Seems totally insane now, but at the time I thought this was the best it could get!
All of this to pull 345 lbs in competition and wake up with horrible pain so bad I could barely bend down to wash my face in the morning.   It was a great tripod maneuver to spread my feet wide enough and slowly get my left hand on the counter so I could get my face about 3 feet from water.   I don’t fault anyone for this, as I did it entirely to myself!  I was foam rolling like white on rice, in the morning, in the evening and some times during the day.  I even started to include dynamic and mobility drills then too.
My clients at the time (circa 2005) were getting stronger, but they still had nagging pains too.
The Breaking Point (H3)
All of it came to a head when I was at Z-Health certification in AZ that Fall.  I remember taking a hot bath that night trying to get my back to relax, wondering what the hell I was doing to myself.
Was I really going to be the next Benni and deadlift over 1,000 pounds?  Was Any Bolton laying in his warm bed in the UK all worried that I was going to come up from nowhere and steal his current world record in the deadlift at that time?
Benni Destroying Some Weight!
Andy Bolton’s World Record Deadlift in 2006
Hell no!
There was high school girls lifting more than I was I’m sure.
High School Girls Powerlifting
Why was I so bent on doing a certain number?  Why did I not realize HOW I was doing it was the source of my issues?
Blame My Injuries (H3)
Sure, I could blame it on all sorts of past injuries from a completely ripped out right shoulder (broomball accident), grade 2 separated shoulder (AC joint), busted right ankle (snowboard accident), sprained wrists (windsurfing), pulled groin/hip flexors on both sides (deadlifts), misaligned thoracic spine (thoracotomy when I was 4.5 to repair a congenital atrial septal defect, ASD, in my heart), a misaligned right eye that causes my whole body to twist so I walk straight, blah blah blah.
The reality was that I was attempting to load a chassis that was screwed up.   Dropping a V-8 into a pinto is not a good idea (er, in my case a V-6).
(VA Insert photo here )
Laying there in hot water trying to fix my back so I could make it through 3 more days of the certification, I decided that I was going to destroy my ego before it destroyed me.  In hindsight it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  I called up my buddy Brad “No Relation” Nelson to get his help and vowed to do whatever it took.  If that meant I did not even LOOK at a deadlift for 5 months, fine.  If I could only use 135 pounds for months at a time, fine.   At least 135 lbs was more than the 95 lbs I started at with deadlifts back in 1996, so that was improvement, right.  I was sick and tired of being in pain.
Happy Ending? (H3)
Now I can deadlift without pain (although it is still not the best lift for me) and even on my worst day I can pull 345 lbs without any warm up (no, I don’t recommend you do that).   My warm ups are about 5-10 minutes on my worst day.
My current goal for this year is to pull 600 lbs on my Dinnie Stone Trainers for a single deadlift and lift the Dinnies in Scotland 3 years from now.   Most would say that is a screwed up lift since it is more of a heavy partial, done from a rotated spinal position, with an offset load (the load on the back hand below is about 75 lbs less), so the torque across your body gets pretty nuts.   Stu McGill fans run in horror, but it does not bother me (then again I am not normal in any sense of the word).
Dinnie Stone Trainer Deadlift Recent PR
Foam Rollers? (H3)
My whole point with that part of the rant is that everyone’s person journey will change how they perceive events.  If coach Boyle see success with his athletes (which he does, otherwise nobody would pay him and he would do something different), and he has them foam roll beforehand, his brain will associate foam rolling (to some degree) with success.
A Better Way? (H3)
Could there be even better success around the corner without foam rolling?  I would say yes, but it would have to be tested.
Testing can be scary since you may not find what you WANT to find.   It is hard to test all aspects of programming I know.
But what things are you willing to question?
Former Foam Roller Dealer (H3)
Perhaps I am a contrarian for fitness, but I did not start out that way.  I used to even buy foam rollers for my clients to make sure they had one.  I had them start on the treadmill, static stretch, eat their meals every 2-3 hours (going without protein for 5 hours was a huge sin), do their corrective exercise drills, but I was wise enough then to look at the results.
If the results did not match what I thought they could be, I would try something different and re-measure again. I would seek to understand why things should or should not work.  If that did not match, I would really have to ask myself why I was still doing them?
After years of testing, I had them stop doing treadmill work, stop static stretching, get off the foam roller, do FEWER warm ups, employ intermittent fasting at times, and they got even BETTER results.
Of course they got results before.  I would not stay in business if they did not get result, but they are now even better.
Contrarian or Results Fitness (H3)
Over time though, they got better and faster results by REMOVING things from the program instead of adding them.
“Maybe all the fitness people need to clean out their garage instead of adding more tools” –Adam Glass
I call it the “Adam Glass Corollary”  the more certifications and information a trainer has, the worse then tend to perform over time.
At first, learning more dramatically helps.  However, once you reach a base level, adding more knowledge by itself is not helpful.  It starts to go the other way.
The reason is that you are starting to de couple knowledge + action.     Too much knowledge and not enough action.    Just like a fat kid on a sew saw, it is skewed too far one direction only.
“More knowledge without action will lead to brain damage” –Frankie Faires
Clean Out Your Fitness Garage (H3)
It is time to clean out your fitness garage.
Take each item, look at it, test it, keep ONLY what is useful.
Nothing is exempt.   There is nothing scared.   It is either making you (or your athletes/clients) better or worse.  It is really that simple.
Are You Up To The Challenge? (H3
Are you willing to do it?   It is not easy.   It is really really hard.    Few do it.
I can guarantee that your results will be even better.
You owe it to yourself and your clients.
Summary (aka How To Still Love Your Foam Roller)  (H3)
More knowledge is not the answer.
More action is better.
Applied knowledge is the key
Are you willing to question and test what you think you know?
This includes foam rollers.  They are not exempt.
If you have tested them and can show they help performance, by all means keep doing it.
But if they do not help, are you willing to take them out?
In the end I would rather be known as the results guy instead of the contrarian fitness guy; but I will take whichever makes people better.  I really like better.
I agree with coach Boyle when he says “Focus on results.”  Since that is what matters and is why all of us are here.
Rock on
Mike T Nelson
PS—If you love results as much as I do, no matter how you exercise right now, you could have bigger, stronger muscles, go HERE : Video Training for Muscle and Strength FREE (VA link bold text to
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