They See Me Rollin’, They Hatin’!
If you’ve been around fitness or sport in the past 5 years or so, you have more than likely heard of foam rolling. It’s a very common warm up or post workout regimen to follow. It can help you be less sore, recover faster and increase flexibility.
I’d like to take some time to go over the basics and provide to you some specific research examples that point to the benefit of foam rolling.
First, let’s talk about myofascial release. If you want to sound fancy around your fitness friends, use self-myofascial release instead of foam rolling. Don’t forget to raise your pinky.
Let’s break down the word:
- myo – latin prefix for muscle
- fascial – of or relating to fascia, which is a thin but tough elastic tissue that wraps and separates muscles or internal organs
- release – in this sense, the release refers to relaxation
You don’t have to be an English major to guess that self-myofascial release involves some sort of technique that allows the muscles to relax. This helps loosen tightened muscles, improve blood flow (and lymphatic circulation) and triggering a stretch reflex in the targeted muscle.
Not so quick side note on lymphatic circulation: it’s responsible for ‘cleaning up’ the body. This system mainly shuttles interstitial fluid (what fills the spaces between cells). Exercising sends signals for the body to use the lymphatic system to clean up lactic acid and other waste products from the muscles. Foam rolling can help increase or maintain this ‘clean up’ attitude.
Cheatham et al. recently investigated three different questions about foam rolling: 1) does it increase joint range of motion? 2) does it decrease soreness after intense workouts? 3) does it affect muscle performance? Here are the results from their systematic review.
Oh, another side note: a systematic review is where a team of professionals search, read, dissect and analyze scholarly articles that relate to a single point. In this particular review, Cheatham started with 133 articles and eventually finished with 14. They were pretty strict.
Here we go! Does foam rolling increase range of motion at the hip? Yes! At the knee? Yes! At the ankle? Yes again! All of these joints were improved anywhere between 6-10° and results were improved when combined with static stretching. However, the range of motion improvements were lost as early as one week after. You have to keep at it.
Does foam rolling decrease muscle soreness? Here were the results of one, awesome study. Subjects completed 10 sets of 10 reps back squat with 60% of their 1-rep max. After this, one group foam rolled for 20 minutes immediately after the workout and at 1, 2 and 3 days post exercise. What they found was that the perceived pain rating was lower and range of motion, vertical jump performance and EMG measured muscle activation was improved! Boom. Foam rolling helps.
Does foam rolling improve performance as a warm up tool? Unfortunately, the research does not support any benefits in this regard. You still get the increased range of motion benefits but those don’t exactly translate to performance. What could also be taken away from this is that it doesn’t harm you.
Foam rolling may act in a secondary pathway however. Long term range of motion increases may help an athlete’s ability to complete a movement pattern. For example, foam rolling the hip/quad may allow an athlete to achieve a full, proper technique squat and therefore improve their strength gains during weightlifting sessions.
So, we’ve established the point that foam rolling is beneficial. Let’s learn just how to foam roll. When you’re rolling out, there’s no consensus cadence that you want to roll. It can be a slow tempo, it can be fast or moderate. You want to self monitor how much weight you’re putting into a muscle group to a point where it’s 7-8 out of 10.
Check out my youtube channel for specific rolling techniques on the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, mid back, lats and calves.
How long? Research suggests you can gain benefits by utilizing 15-20 minute foam roll sessions. I suggest about 30-60 seconds on one section and then switching. Alternatively, you could roll for 20 seconds, rest for 20 and then roll out the same area for another 20.
If you need a foam roller, contact me. The 3’ x 6” foam rollers are usually the most popular/preferred. I usually have these in the high density foam on hand and on sale for $20 each.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and pulled some handy information out of it. Thanks for keeping up. Hey, I see you rollin!
Have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at [email protected].
- Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roll or Roller Massager on Joint Range of Motion, Muscle Recovery, and Performance: A Systematic Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):827-838.
- Havas E, Parviainen T, Vuorela J, Toivanen J, Nikula T, Vihko V. Lymph flow dynamics in exercising human skeletal muscle as detected by scintography. J Physiol. 1997;504 ( Pt 1):233-239.
- 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;46(1):131-142.