Foam Rolling – Fad or Fact?

In the last decade there has been a boom in the fitness industry in the form of “mobility training.” Within the mobility movement, there is an ever-increasing amount of people who understand that muscles, fascia, ligaments, and tendons make up a joint complex and therefore any restriction within these structures can result in a decrease in movement resulting in performance deficits and even pain.

This understanding has lead to techniques, and products that include movement drills, self myofascial release, various types of roller balls, straps bands, PVC pipes, mats, etc, that are geared toward increasing improving mobility and performance within the individual. I have even come across extremely heavy solid metal structures that look like scuba tanks. They are supposed to be laid on top of you and are to compress these soft tissue structures. Yes, I did try it and some of the metal pipe looking stuff was approximately 90 pounds. I swear I could’ve went to a construction site and found similar piping and just painted it. Anyway, within this market specifically, foam rollers have generated big business. They are virtually in every sporting goods business, gyms, and are even found an electronic stores like Best Buy.

What is Foam Rolling?

From rolling is a technique designed to compress or even mash structures. This technique is done to help increase flexibility, and decrease scar tissue by using your own weight and a circular foam roller. It’s basically a way of doing self-massage or self trigger point work using a compressive technique.

How does it work?

Just like deep massage therapy; deep compression to muscles can help restore normal blood flow, which is vital for healthy tissue. By breaking down scar tissue, and loosening tight muscles, you can restore the blood flow and increase flexibility within the joint.

What should I do?

When doing foam rolling, you should compress an area from mild to moderate pressure depending on your own skill for pain tolerance. If you find an area that is tender, obviously you may want to use a little less pressure. Also, avoid rolling over a bone! You will definitely know if you did it the wrong way.

Typical compression time should occur from 5 to 30 seconds. If necessary you may need to work the course of that muscle or even repeat that area. Many people mistake pain for good, therefore, the harder you go, the better. This is not true, and the ultimate goal of foam rolling or any myofascial release or mobility work is to increase movement and flexibility to the area so that the muscles are now supple and soft, rather than tight and tender.

Knowing which muscle or muscle group is not always obvious. If this is a case or your discomfort is not improving, then a proper evaluation is likely necessary.

Why does it hurt?

It is likely for an area of the body to have sore, sensitive, or even painful spots. These spots can indicate areas of dysfunction. In most cases, if you had a sore or painful area, it is likely that something within that muscle needs to be worked out. Just as a warning, you may have some soreness the following day.

What does the research say?

All this stuff may seem practical but what does the research actually say. In one study, they tested the difference between foam rollers and planking before athletic tests in order to determine performance. The results indicated that foam rolling and planking showed that there were no differences in performance. The study also indicated that post exercise fatigue was less in the group who did foam rolling which indicates that individuals can likely increase their workout time and volume and may lead to enhancements in performance in the future.

In this study, the use foam rolling was to help with delayed onset muscle soreness. (DOMS). You guessed it, the results indicated that the group who use the rollers have less soreness.

Another study indicated that foam rolling can help increase range of motion for a period of time without negatively affecting performance.

Final Thoughts

Foam rolling should be part of your routine. The research shows that it can help with range of motion, recovery, and will not negatively affect performance. . It can be used prior to exercise or as a form of recovery from an activity. This is a great inexpensive tool/therapy that can go a long way. If you are new to it, give it a try and if you have some experience with it, go ahead and create a solid routine. Remember, if you don’t get the results you are looking for then you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

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