Without a doubt, foam rolling works. Really well, actually.
But, it may not work in the way you’ve been told. We now know that the benefits of foam rolling are a culmination of things.
Here they are in a nutshell.Why should I use a foam roller?
The benefits of foam rolling include:
- Decrease in muscle pain
- Increase in muscle flexibility and mobility
- Acts as a way to warm-up muscles pre-training
- Decreases muscle soreness when done post-training
Honestly, with those benefits, it kinda seems like a win-win, right?
Well, to be fair, foam rolling isn’t exactly the most enjoyable thing you can do in the gym.
Is foam rolling really worth it?
That brings me to the cons of foam rolling:
- Uncomfortable, some areas more than others
- Can be time-consuming (a lot of areas to cover all at once)
- Need for different devices depending on where you want to roll
- Benefits can be short-lasting (hours of relief)
Now, to me, the pros most definitely outweigh the cons. I say that both from a personal perspective (I foam roll before every training session) and as a go-to treatment for my clients (the benefits are quick and obvious). In an attempt to keep this blog interesting and not put you to sleep, I’ll explain HOW foam rolling works, quickly.
How does foam rolling work?
First of all, foam rolling doesn’t break up scar tissue. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do and you’re going to need a lot more than a foam roller to get the job done.
Foam rolling does decrease pain and tension in muscles by changing the tone of your muscles. A high tone leads to a tighter muscle. Think of the difference between relaxing and contracting your bicep. That’s high vs low tone. Foam rolling acts like pressing a reset button in your muscle, causing it to relax more.
It also stimulates certain receptors in your muscles (I know, I’ll keep it short). Let’s say your hip flexors are tight and sore. Your brain is really good at remembering how tight and sore they are. When you foam roll, you provide a different stimulus that distracts your brain. This causes your brain to forget about how tight and sore your hip flexors are.
It’s a bit of a double edge sword, endure short-term pain to decrease long-term pain and tightness. But, that’s why it’s important to be consistent with foam rolling. One session here or there will only lead to some relief, here or there. This brings me to the last section, when should you foam roll and how much?
When should you foam roll?
This really depends on what you want to gain from foam rolling. If you’re someone who is tight, needs to work on their mobility, and suffering from pain/injury, foam rolling is going to be the most effective pre-training.
This is simply because you want to decrease tension and pain to allow more benefit from your training session. It’s a lot easier to squat deep if you’re all warmed up and mobile. And, you’ll get more from your improved squat depth.
If you’re not currently rehabbing an injury or needing to improve your mobility, maybe you just want to better recover from your training. Foam rolling post-training would be more effective for you. This is because foam rolling post-training can actually decrease how sore you get from training.
Now, how long should you foam roll for?
Honestly, the research says that you need to foam roll a specific area for one minute. No more, no less. At least that’s how long you need to do it to get the maximum benefits. But, one minute is a long time rolling around on the ground and in pain. So, this is what I tell my clients.
When rolling a specific area, do so for about 15 seconds. I find this to be a much more manageable time as it allows you to get through all of the areas you need to without taking four hours. And, let’s be real. 15 seconds of foam rolling sounds way more doable than one minute.
So, is foam rolling all it’s hyped up to be? ABSOLUTELY! It truly is well worth the short-term pain for potential long-term benefits. Consistency is key with foam rolling. The more you do it, the longer-lasting the benefits will be.
Have questions? Let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts or talk more about how foam rolling works.