Foam rollers are a great tool for releasing muscle tension and restoring ‘normal’ functional length to your muscles.
Whether you’re recovering from an injury, looking to reduce the risk of injury, or wanting to speed up exercise recovery, a foam roller will be a useful addition to your warm up and post-exercise routine.
What are foam rollers?
Simply put, a foam roller is a tool used for self-myofascial release (SMR) — a technique used to stretch and release the muscle tightness and trigger points/knots that develop following intense, prolonged, or repetitive workouts.
Why would you need a foam roller?
For muscles to function correctly, they need to work through a ‘normal’ range of movement.
When we exercise, sometimes we buildup scar tissue and adhesions within the muscles and myofascia — the thin connective layer that surrounds your muscles.
Without treatment, this can reduce the range of movement, increase stiffness and pain. It can also reduce post-exercise recovery and compromise your exercise performance.
By consistently using foam rollers, you can prevent many of these effects and maintain normal muscle function.
Let’s look at the benefits of using foam rollers.
The benefits of using a foam roller
Foam rollers, like other self massage tools — massage balls and massage sticks — are effective for reducing soft tissue adhesions, scar tissue, trigger points, and for releasing the tension between your muscles and the fascia (myofascia).
By breaking down knots and scar tissue, foam rollers serve to restore muscle length, allowing muscles to function more efficiently. Foam rolling also increases blood circulation within your muscles — something that benefits exercise and recovery.
When used consistently, foam rolling can have several benefits including:
- Reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Improved muscle function and strength
- Restores your natural range of movement
- Reduces muscle fatigue and pain
- Improves muscle blood flow
- Enhances recovery
Let’s look at what research tells us about using foam rollers.
Research looking at the benefits of foam rolling
In one study, researchers (Pearcey et al., 2015) looked at the benefits of using foam rollers after a strength training workout. During the study participants completed 10 sets of 10 back squats, on two separate occasions — one with and one without foam rolling.
They performed 20minutes of foam rolling immediately after completing the back squats, and 24 and 48hours afterwards.
So what did they discover?…
Foam Rolling reduces DOMS, improved power, sprint performance and strength endurance
They found foam rolling to have a positive effect on quadriceps tenderness, sprint time, power, and strength endurance. From this, the researchers concluded that foam rolling was effective for reducing DOMS and protecting against reduced dynamic performance.
So, not only did foam rolling reduce muscle tenderness, it also had a positive effect on sprint performance, power and strength endurance.
Greater vertical jump height, muscle activation and range of motion
In a separate study, researchers (Macdonald et al., 2014) found that foam rollers reduced muscle soreness, improved vertical jump height, muscle activation, and range of motion.
What to take from the foam roller research
So what can we take away from this?…
First, using foam rollers after exercise can reduce DOMS and improve post exercise recovery.
Second, foam rolling helps to maintain a normal range of motion.
Third, using a foam roller appears to have a positive effect on exercise performance including speed, power and strength endurance.
With this in mind, it makes sense to incorporate foam rolling within your post exercise routine.
This can be especially useful after intense or prolonged exercise.
Not only will this help you maintain a ‘functional’ range of movement, enhance recovery, and reduce DOMS, it will help to maintain muscle function and strength, and reduce your overall risk of injury.
Pearcey GE, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21. PMID: 25415413; PMCID: PMC4299735.
Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db. PMID: 24343353.