We’ve seen people foam roll in the gym and other locations, but do we ever stop and wonder why and what benefit it offers? At its base level, it’s simply a plastic tube which people use under their body parts, usually post-exercise.
The first benefit is that people state it’s the closest option to a massage and really helps with post-exercise muscle flexibility. But, is there any science to foam rolling or is it more of a ‘feel good thing’? And should you be foam rolling before exercise?
Foam rollers originated in 1920s Israel when engineer and physicist Moshe Feldenkrais incorporated them into his Judo training to help alleviate knee pain. They were more widely used globally in the early 21st century with the first patent being filed in 2004. A foam roller is simply hard plastic with an outer soft surface. Some have raised edges to dig a little deeper into your muscle fibre.
By using your bodyweight/gravity when using the foam cylinder, it is said to improve flexibility like stretching, but without the setback of impairing strength.
Evidence remains very limited. However, a recent study from the University of Stirling tested foam rolling on a group performing leg extensions. It was found that it required less effort to complete the leg extensions if the participants had completed foam rolling prior to performing the exercise instead of after. Dr Lewis Macgregor, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, concluded “our research – for the first time – suggests that foam rolling offers a viable alternative warm-up technique that does not result in diminished muscle strength, which is often associated with static stretching. It shows that foam rolling may be a useful technique in helping to reduce stress and strain on muscles during exercise and, therefore, could reduce injuries”.
Foam rolling is also thought to be used as muscle soreness prevention and improve recovery. Foam rollers have been regarded as helping with this by releasing tension from your muscle fascia. This is because muscle pain isn’t related to warming up or lengthening of muscles but actually from stimulating the soft tissue area in question.
What is known so far is that foam rolling before and after exercise can complement your training programme. While there are no detrimental effects, long-term benefits are still unknown. As with anything, make sure you continue to do it regularly in order to see the benefits.
We also recommend checking back with Short Motivation as we’ll be uploading our foam rolling routines.