Foam Rolling is a commonly used tool to ‘release tight muscles and enhance performance.
It is often prescribed as a pre-training tool to increase joint mobility, and as a post-training tool to encourage recovery.
Yet, the science related to Foam Rolling is equivocal at best.
Some would argue that that pre-training use can have a negative impact on performance, particularly power production though not all agree this is true. However, this will be largely dictated by how the roller is used and to what purpose.
For example, to see the most gain in tissue flexibility, the roller should be applied in a slow manner to facilitate change to tissue extensibility.
To clarify here, the roller itself has no impact on the actual muscle. It does not work like a rolling pin on dough. The relaxation you experience, and sensation of increased tissue length, is more a result of what the roller does to specialist receptors in the muscle/surrounding tissue. In pre-training conditions, most use the roller in a rapid, the repetitive manner which again, will result in a sensation of increased flexibility.
Yet, the likelihood of making any change to the actual muscle tissue length is very limited. The ‘flexibility’ change is again, more likely to increased receptor activity and perhaps some warming effect from the fast-rolling.
Despite the science being equivocal, many report improvements from using a Foam Roller and should consider using a Foam Roller if they feel it enhances their performance. Nonetheless, there are some questions that athletes may wish to consider in the future:
- Why are you using the Foam Roller? If it’s because of a genuine tissue restriction, then the Foam Roller is an important tool. However, if tissue is tight because of either inflammation or fatigue, it may be worth considering other options first. Direct, painful pressure may elongate the release of inflammatory markers, thus hindering recovery and cellular growth/tissue repair.
- Don’t forget the basics. As effective as Foam Rolling and flexibility training may be, it can be hindered by poor diet, inadequate sleep, and dehydration. The metabolic status of the tissue will influence the response you get when using a Foam Roller and when recovering from training
- Is it okay to Foam Roll pre-training? This is based on individual dose-response. Some may experience significant decreases in performance following Foam Rolling and extensive flexibility training before a workout. Therefore, it goes without saying, monitor your training after a bout of Foam Rolling. If you under-performed or felt ‘sluggish’ consider using an alternative mobility tool.