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How Foam Rolling Is Good For Your Muscles

Foam rolling may be the most important part of your workout you’re not doing.

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No time or budget for a regular sports massage? Using a foam roller may be an ideal (or maybe even better!) way to improve your fitness gains and reduce your risk of injuries. Rollers are relatively cheap (most range from about $10 to $50, depending on their features) and readily available at just about every gym. Plus, it doesn’t take long to get the job done—or to see an effect on your body.

Regardless of your fitness level, almost everyone who is in good health can benefit from rolling out regularly, says Steve Barrett, a personal trainer and author of Total Foam Rolling Techniques. Whether it’s from hard training or simply spending too much time sitting around, congestion can form around your skeletal tissue, he explains. “Rolling breaks up some of these blockages, helping the muscles and surrounding fascia to become more malleable and pliable,” Barrett says. “Plus, it improves your posture, the way you feel, and the way you move.”

And while it might not improve your one-rep max, rolling is crucial to keeping your training on track. “When you strength train regularly, if you don’t also do something to maintain flexibility and mobility it’s kind of a vicious circle,” says Barrett. “You get stronger, but you lose range of motion. And if you can’t use full range of motion, you can’t use the muscles you’ve developed.”

In fact, the more you train, the more you should roll. While most people will see benefits from rolling first thing in the morning or while watching TV at night, serious athletes may need to do it up to three to five times a day for max benefits. Ideally, plan to roll before a workout for improved range of motion or after for faster recovery. “If you do a huge amount of activity, you have the potential to create a huge amount of congestion,” says Barrett. The one caveat: The effects are fleeting, so you have to roll regularly if you want to continue to see benefits. And doing it daily—or as close to it as you can—is key to maintaining the effects.

Increasingly, research supports foam rolling’s benefits. One recent study found foam rolling the quads five times a week led to increased range of motion during lunges done immediately after rolling. While this doesn’t necessarily translate to better performance, the increased range of motion carries over to activities where you have to move, run, jump, and bend, says lead researcher Jennifer Bushell, an athletic trainer at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Meanwhile, a 2015 research review in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports looked at nine different randomized controlled trials on foam rolling and found that in addition to increasing range of motion, rolling also decreased post-workout soreness and fatigue. And that may mean a better workout tomorrow. 

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