The Health Benefits of Foam Rolling

Nowadays, you can find foam rollers in almost every gym. They are sold in all shapes and forms and are claimed to aid recovery and prevent injuries. Does foam rolling live up to these promises, and how can you use it as part of a fitness or sports performance training?

What is foam rolling?

Foam Rolling is a self-myofascial release technique (SMR). Myofascial release is a treatment that is supposed to help to relax tight muscles, increase range of motion, improve blood flow, and stimulate lymphatic circulation.

In a therapeutic setting, myofascial release is typically administered by a therapist, but it can also be performed by oneself using tools such as massage balls or foam rollers.

What are the evidence-based benefits of foam rolling?

Foam rolling can help to increases blood flow

Increased blood flow can help to aid recovery and decrease inflammation. This is one reason why heat (e.g., in the form of hot baths) is used during the recovery process.The Health Benefits of Hot BathsSoaking in hot water can lift your spirits and heal your body at the same timemedium.com

A recent study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found thatblood flow increases significantly after foam rolling exercises.

So to aid your recovery after strenuous workouts, it can be helpful to foam roll the areas and muscles that you primarily used during your exercise sessions.

Foam rolling can help to increase range of motion

According to research published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, SMR seems to increase range of motion while decreasing soreness after exercise sessions.

Another study conducted with NCAA Division 1 offensive linemen, showed a significant increase in hip flexibility after both dynamic stretching and foam rolling.

Foam rolling increases flexibility without decreasing strength

Research published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation showed that foam rolling is more effective in increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstrings without decreasing muscle strength and might thus an effective addition to warm-up protocols.

Foam rolling and stretching seems to be a powerful combination

Interestingly, the combination of foam rolling and static stretching is linked to even greater gains in the range of motion: a study that compared the effect on ROM by foam rolling, stretching, or a combination of both showed that the most significant changes of ROM are be reached when the participants did their static stretches after foam rolling.

How to foam roll

I use the foam rolling protocol that I learned during my studies at the National Academy for Sports Medicine (NASM):

  • Roll slowly of the area that you want to target
  • Try to find the most painful spot
  • Pause on that spot for 30–90 seconds or until the pain subsides

If I have enough time, I foam roll before AND after my workout. If I’m on a tight schedule, I prioritize foam rolling as part of my warm-up.

Are there any risks when foam rolling?

Please check in with your health care provider if you’re suffering from any chronic condition or if you have an acute injury such as a muscle tear to check if foam rolling is safe for you.

Also, avoid rolling your lower back and directly on your joints.

Apart from that, you need clearance from your physician if you’re pregnant before foam rolling.

In good health,
Rike

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Rike Aprea

My name is Friederike Aprea. Most people call me Rike. I'm German-born and have lived and worked in Japan and Korea before I moved to the US. I coach individuals and companies using the principles of Kaizen. Whether you want to live a more purpose-driven life, improve your health, or change the business model of your company: Kaizen can get you there. Step by step. Day by day.

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