Introduction to foam rolling
You no doubt will have seen a teammate or someone at the gym role around on the floor in pain with a foam cylinder or lacrosse ball between them and the ground. But what are they doing and why? They are likely to be performing self-myofascial release (SMR) also known as foam rolling. Foam rolling is said to have a number of benefits for athletes.
When to do it: Pre-exercise, post-exercise or both?
Foam rolling prior to exercise is deemed beneficial as it has been shown to acutely increase range of motion of the targeted joint (Škarabot J, 2015). Foam rolling prior to exercise doesn’t appear to affect the potential force production from the targeted muscles (Peacock CA, et al 2015). Whereas static stretching, that has been a staple in pregame warmups for years now, has been shown to decrease power output (Yamaguchi T, et al 2006). Therefore, foam rolling displays greater potential for performance when compared to static stretching.
Furthermore, foam rolling after any exercise has been found to decrease the severity and duration of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) (Pearcey G, E 2015). Implying that foam rolling aids the recovery from the stress the exercise applied. Meaning foam rolling both pre and post exercise has its own set of benefits.
Now we know we should foam role for an increase in preparedness prior to exercise, and foam roll after exercise to aid recovery, we need to know how to. Often it is thought that the more pain you endure when foam rolling the better. This is actually counterintuitive as excessive pain causes your muscle to tense consequently not allowing the ‘release’ to occur.
Where to place the foam roller?
You should place the roller between the ground and the muscle you intend to work on. Apply pressure through the roller via manipulating your bodyweight (always maintain good posture throughout). Start off by ‘profiling’ the muscle meaning one to two slow rolls up and down the muscle looking for ‘trigger points’. These are areas within the muscle where more pain is felt. This implies that an area might require a little more attention. It’s been found that anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 seconds (Mohr A, et al 2014) per muscle would be adequate to produce the desired effect. The recommended speed of rolling is still widely debated, however, research implies that slower is better with a ‘cadence of 3 to 4 lengths per minute’ (MacDonald, et al 2013).
4 rolling Exercises
Take away points about foam rolling:
- Foam rolling has been shown to increase range of motion around a joint and decrease DOMS.
- Slowly rolling up and down a muscle for 30-60 seconds is stated to bring the desired results.
- More pain doesn’t mean more results.
- Static stretching still has a place in pregame warm-ups especially if you are very stiff around a certain joint.
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**Don’t use a foam roller on your lower back as this will apply a lot of pressure on your spine. If your lower back feels tight, a lacrosse ball (or similar) applied to your lower back muscles (quadratus lumborum, QL) either side of your spine might create the desired results. If not also look at the range of motion around your hips addressing your glutes, hip flexors (high thigh) and hamstrings.
**Don’t use a foam roller over a joint instead target the muscles connected either side of the joint.
- MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(3):812-821.
- Mohr AR, Long BC, Goad CL. Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. J Sport Rehabil. 2014;23(4):296-299
- Pearcey GE, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015;50(1):5-13.
- Peacock CA, Krein DD, Antonio J, et al. Comparing acute bouts of sagittal plane progression foam rolling vs. frontal plane progression foam rolling. J Strength Cond Res. 2015
- Škarabot J, Beardsley C, Štirn I. Comparing the effects of self-myofascial release with static stretching on ankle range-of-motion in adolescent athletes. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015; 10(2): 203-212.
- Yamaguchi, T., Ishii, K., Yamanaka, M., & Yasuda, K. (2006). Acute Effect of Static Stretching on Power Output During Concentric Dynamic Constant External Resistance Leg Extension. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(4), 804. doi:10.1519/r-18715.1