Self-Limiting Exercise

Foam Rolling is an inexpensive tool that can provide great benefits before and after a workout.

It also helps to increase flexible and to decrease the number of soft tissue and non-contact injuries as fitness expert, Alwyn Cosgrove shares with us today.


Craig Ballantyne: You mentioned that just having everything working, doing the foam rolling, it might add a little bit to how many calories you can burn.

Obviously you’re able to train better.  Just talk about the importance of that, because a lot of people are still kind of new to the foam rolling and the mobility stuff.  So maybe just talk about how important that stuff is.

Alwyn Cosgrove: If you think of calories burned for a fat loss client is calories are really a measure of work.  And if we break work down, work can be – I know I’m sure that some physicist listening to this is completely disagreeing with me – but work is often classified as distance over time.

So if I take an exercise like a step up and I can increase the range in motion of the hips, you can actually burn more calories in training.  So there’s a very direct effect is that I have more range of motion.

The key part is that we don’t improve by training.  Training is a stimulus to create a response.  And a response is the improvement.  But that response is when you recover.

So if you look at a traditional training graph.  When we train we get worse, we break down because – if people want to Google it it’s “super compensation” – we break down and over time we recover.  And ideally with a good stimulus you recover in a narrower level above where you were before, because your body has super compensated.

The whole idea of training is we’ve spent so long studying that training impetus and how we can get it.  But all the adaptations come after training.  So the future of sort of sports science, I guess the last couple of years, has been looking at how we can improve recovery so that you can train harder and you can train perhaps more often.

And you can train better.  And if I could improve your heavy workout five percent of the results of the recovery, we’ll compound that over a few workouts a week, several months.  And 200 in a year, or whatever you end up doing.  But all those little increments improve.

So some of my theories that I can prove, this is the Black Ops ninja stuff, is that I believe that if you do foam rolling you are stirring up the tissue.  If you’re stirring up the tissue you are stirring up the physiology, and therefore have to ramp up metabolism as a result of that.  We understand that muscle is a large contributing factor to metabolic rate.

But the muscles are responsible for movement.  So if you don’t move all that muscle mass doesn’t burn that many calories.  Muscle is responsible for movement.  But if you look at something like a tight hip structure or a tight hip flexor, that muscle’s not working properly.  Therefore metabolism cannot be working properly because muscle feeds metabolism.

So there are a lot of things we can do.  But I think if I took a deconditioned person and just had them do flexibility work and foam rolling, you’d see an increase in metabolism and a loss of body fat beyond what could be explained by just the exercise session itself.  I don’t think you can ever do anything to the body without affecting metabolism somewhere.

So this is regeneration work to allow you to train harder, but also in and of itself I think you’ll increase your training results by doing it because you can train harder.  But even if you couldn’t you’ll increase your results, because I think this factors in with ramping up metabolism and physiology.

Craig Ballantyne:  Everyone who just thought that was pretty cool but has never heard of it, have never heard of foam rolling or mobility, shouldn’t feel bad because you’ve worked with some of the most famous athletes in the world.

And without mentioning any names, they got better simply because they improved something as simple as a side plank.  So why don’t you tell us what you’re allowed to tell us without getting killed by the professional athletes that have hired you.

Alwyn Cosgrove: I was asked to work with a professional athlete last year.  He was having some problems.  And so I looked at his training and assessed him.  And the best way to describe it is, and this may come from Gray Cook, there’s a base of movement that everybody needs to have.  And above that you’ve got your strength and power, and your speed and all your bio-motor qualities.  And on the top of that is your performance.  So if you look at that as a permanent, this base is movement.

So with a lot of people, if you think of maybe a ballerina or someone who’s very flexible and has a good range of motion but is kind of frail, that would be somebody that we would call underpowered.  So we break down the training.  They don’t need to move better, we just need to get them stronger.  And we just need to get them faster.

But I’m looking at this guy.  And after we tested him, his bio-motor stuff, his speed and his strength, is there.  But when I did some screening he literally couldn’t hold a side plank for more than ten seconds.  He just never trained that.  So I started doing some other stuff with him.  He could squat a decent amount of weight, but when I put him in a split squat he could split squat above what he could squat.

People are like, “Well, you get two legs working and two legs working, what’s the difference here?”  A split squat, or a lunge if you want to call it that, has a lighter base of support.  So the core stability is not challenged as much.  When I say core stability I don’t just mean abs.  I mean lower back, everything.  So let’s say you can squat 200 pounds, Craig, and I have you move to a lunge.  If you can squat more, that’s the same but the base of support is different.

So as I broke down with this guy.  I just started bringing in what I call stability challenging exercises.  Not balance exercise, but things like side planks.  That was the master key, to find the one thing.  And once we built that up we’d do things like heavy, heavy split squats with one dumbbell or one kettlebell on one side so that we’re challenging stability all the time.

He ran back home and really turned his season around.  I like to say it was just me.  There was a bunch of other people involved.  Often it’s not that you just need to work harder.  I’ve always laughed at these programs where it’s like, “Hey, my biceps aren’t growing.  What should I do?”  And they give a routine that just has more bicep curls.  Did you really think that the problem was just this teenage boy who’s not curling enough?  If it is that that’s an easy fix.  Like, “I can’t do chin-ups.  What should I do?”  “Try this.  It’s just a lot of chin-ups.”

You have to find the weak link.  It’s like an arm bar in jujitsu and martial arts.  You can be in perfect position, but until you apply that last little bit of pressure which appears no different from what you were already doing it doesn’t work at all.  And that’s what I do with these guys, is I troubleshoot a program to find something.

And with this guy in particular, I’ll be honest, you’re going in thinking you’ve got to bring some crazy Bulgarian shock training to the scenario to improve this guy.  And you’re finding something real basic.  The best way I can describe it is if you’re taking your car in to get a bigger engine put in, that your front end is out of alignment and your back tire is missing.

There are some simple things you can do to get more power out of it.  It’s the releasing the breaks philosophy, that it’s not always about putting your foot on the accelerator harder.  It’s about removing some of the limitations that are already there.

Craig Ballantyne: That’s pretty darn cool.  So there’s a lot of similarities between regular folks training and making the best better even.

Alwyn Cosgrove: I think that’s the part that strength coaches don’t like to tell you, that training an elite guy is usually easier because they’re so talented.  But it’s just riskier because you don’t want to screw them up.  The general population, I think, poses a challenge because these are not gifted athletes.

If you think there’s misinformation at the sports level, the general population, there’s people who think you can wear shoes and your butt is going to look better.  You and I will have conversations.  We’re talking about self-limiting exercise and two low phases for metabolic conditioning.

But there’s people out there still thinking that they’ll drink cider vinegar and lose body fat.  It’s cool being the hired gun who goes in to help an athlete with a program, or a bunch of people.  It’s cooler just helping regular people, in my head.  I get more of a kick out of that, to be honest.

Awesome stuff here but that’s all for today.  Join us in Part 3, as Alwyn Cosgrove switches gears and talks little about boxing.

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Certified Turbulence Trainer