Foam rollers can be 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 post exercise recovery, the foam roller can be a useful addition to your warm up and post-exercise routine.
So 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 can build up following intense, prolonged, or repetitive training sessions.
Why would you need a foam roller?
For muscles to function properly they need to be able to work through a ‘normal’ range of movement. When we exercise, sometimes this can lead to a build up of scar tissue and adhesions within the muscles and myofascia – the thin connective layer that surrounds your muscles. Without treatment, this can lead to a reduced range of movement, increased stiffness and pain. It can also reduce post-exercise recovery and begin to compromise your exercise performance.
By routinely using foam rollers, you can counteract many of these effects and maintain normal muscle function.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of using foam rollers.
The benefits of using foam rollers
Foam rollers, like other self massage tools – massage balls and massage sticks – can be particularly useful for reducing soft tissue adhesions, scar tissue, trigger points and for releasing the tightness between the muscles and the fascia (myofascia). By breaking down knots and scar tissue, foam rollers help to restore muscle length allowing muscles to function more efficiently. Foam rolling also improves circulation within your muscles – something that will benefit both exercise and recovery.
When used consistently, foam rolling can have a number of benefits including:
- Reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Improved muscle function and strength
- Restoring normal range of movement
- Reduces muscle fatigue and pain
- Improved muscle blood flow
- Enhances recovery
Let’s take a look at what research tells us about using foam rollers.
Research looking at the benefits of foam rollers
In one study, researchers (Pearcey et al., 2014) 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. With the foam rolling lasting 20minutes, and completed immediately, 24 and 48hours after completing the back squats.
So, what did they find?
Foam Rolling reduces DOMS, improves power, sprint performance and strength endurance
Foam rolling was found 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.
Improved vertical jump height, muscle activation and range of motion
In a separate study, researchers (Macdonald et al., 2014) found that using a foam roller after exercise 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? Firstly, using foam rollers after exercise, appears to be beneficial in reducing DOMS and improving post exercise recovery. Secondly, foam rolling appears to play role in maintaining a normal range of motion. Thirdly, 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 rollers within your post exercise routine. This may be particularly useful after intense or prolonged exercise. Not only, will this help you maintain a ‘functional’ range of movement, enhance recovery, and reduce DOMS, you’ll also 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. (2014) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. J Athl Train. 2014 Nov 21. [Epub ahead of print]
Macdonald GZ1, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. (2014) 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.