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Foam rolling over the last decade has evolved from a mystical modality used by a select few professional athletes and clients of elitist personal training studios to a worldwide fitness phenomenon.
Popular doesn’t mean it works or is validated by science – a novel could be written on the snake oil fitness “systems” hawked at the public over the last 20 years – but when it comes to foam rolling, the mass appeal comes with merit. So let’s take a closer look at what foam rolling is and what science has to say about its effectiveness.
Practitioners of Self-Myofasical Release (SMR )or “foam rolling” believe that the foam roller is one of the most effective tools for releasing tension in muscles and effectively improving your overall range-of-motion.
A foam roller is a one-time investment that costs under $10 in most cases. Similar to deep tissue massage, it works by releasing trigger points because of the principle of autogenic inhibition.
Popular strength coach, Mike Boyle, has referred to foam rolling as a poor man’s massage. Advocates of the foam roller believe it is nearly as effective as a massage.
The foam roller is believed to have the benefits of correcting muscle imbalances, reducing stress, reducing pain, increasing joint range-of-motion, relieving muscle soreness and stress, improving the extensibility of the musculotendinous junction, increasing neuromuscular efficiency, and maintaining normal muscle length.
Foam rolling is simply performed by taking the foam roller and slowly rolling it across the muscle from which you want to release adhesions and knots. The foam roller is wedged between the floor and your bodyweight at the specific area in which you are focusing.
You want to roll at a slow, controlled pace and stop on the most tender spots, directly focusing on the localized area where pain is most persistent. Once the pain diminishes, then move onto rolling out another area.
Expert trainer Mike Robertson recommends rolling from the proximal to the distal attachment of a muscle. When rolling the thighs, roll from the top to the bottom, focusing on one specific area; do not do the whole targeted area at once. Robertson believes this sequence is important because as you gain proximity to the distal muscle-tendon junction, there is greatly increasing tension.
In summary, you work the top half of the muscle first; then, after it has loosened up, you can roll the bottom half. This will decrease the tension that is ensuing at the bottom of the muscle.
A recent study published in Journal of Athletic Training examined if after an intense bout of 10 sets of 10 reps on the squat (at 60% of the subjects’ one rep max), if foam rolling alleviated soreness (delayed-onset of muscle soreness) and improved muscular performance. Researchers examined: pain threshold, sprint times, change of direction agility, power and strength endurance.
The results were pretty interesting, validating the efficiency of foam rolling.
Researchers concluded: Foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measurement post high volume resistance training workouts.
Give foam rolling a shot post workout—it’s easy, cheap, time efficient, effective and validated by science!