foam rolling

How Does Foam Rolling Work?

Have you also you’ve seen that person in the gym? the one wincing in pain as they roll themselves over a tube and you’ve thought to yourself “what on earth are they doing?”

Well, they are probably foam rolling.

A Quick History of Foam Rolling

It first began in the late 1980s, after Broadway star Jerome Robbins used foam rolling for his ballet dancers and was then later introduced to the public by Physiotherapist, Mike Clark in early 2000.

It’s a form of self-massage or ‘self-myofascial release’. Using the foam roller, the goal is to put pressure over your muscle and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscle).

Current Research Says:

As more research becomes available, it has been suggested that foam rolling can:

  1. Release deformities in muscle fibres and fascia.
  2. Release trigger points.
  3. Improve blood flow to the surrounding tissues.

…However, as expected, researchers are still debating these suggestions.

The main questions that remain: whether the muscle or fascia is the most important target? Does a trigger point even exists? 

The Benefits of Foam Rolling (What We Do Know)

1. Improves Flexibility

Recently we found out that static stretching can actually decrease muscle performance (if you didn’t know, now you do).

There is no evidence, however, to prove this is the same for foam rolling.

Foam rolling could, therefore, improve flexibility without decreasing your performance.

Other studies have shown that rolling a tennis ball under your foot can actually improve hamstring length, and that foam rolling one leg can improve ankle mobility in the opposite leg! How? This is likely because fascia is connected throughout the entire body.

2. Reduces Muscle Soreness

A couple of experiments concluded that in comparison to people who didn’t foam roll, people who foam rolled their legs for 20 minutes after 10 squats had reduced muscle soreness at 24, 48, AND 72 hours afterwards!

It’s important to bear in mind that this may not have the same effects with all types of exercise though.

3. Improves Recovery Time

A few articles have suggested that foam rolling after exercise actually improved recovery measures such as muscle activation and sprint speed,=.

However, a LOT more research needs to be done in these areas before we can take them as facts.

Our Conclusion:

From our research, we can safely say that we’re still not scientifically sure how or why foam rolling works.

We do know that it could improve flexibility and recovery, and reduce muscle soreness.

Until we find out more, make sure you don’t replace a dynamic warm-up and cool down with foam rolling, add it to your routine instead!