Foam Rolling – Why, When and How?

Benefits of foam rolling for self-myofascial release

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a self-massage technique you can apply to release muscle tightness or trigger points. It can be performed with various tools, the foam roller being one of the most popular. Using a foam roller can help increase blood flow (and thus decrease recovery time) and increase range of motion, especially in muscles that are typically tight.

Since foam rolling reduces tightness, and increases range of motion and blood flow to the working muscles, it can be used as part of the warm up, ideally before stretching or cardio. It can be also used during the cool down part of the workout to help speed up recovery time.

Ideally, foam rolling is used during both parts of the workout, but if time is limited it should be at least included in the warm up to reduce the risk of injury or altered movement patterns resulting from tight (i.e., inhibited) muscles.

As for technique, it is important to execute all movements slowly, spending 30 to 90 seconds on each muscle to allow it to respond. If a tight spot is found, try to stay on it until it relaxes. The intensity can be altered by using your body weight to press harder or more gently into the foam roller.

Interesting fact: According to a study from Journal of Sports Rehabilitation, SMR using a foam roller is even more effective for increasing flexibility when combined with static stretching. This was demonstrated when comparing foam rolling and static stretching of the hamstring muscles. The study’s findings indicate using the foam roller for SMR, in addition to static stretching, is superior to either SMR or static stretching alone1.

(1) Mohr, A., et al. (2014) Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation.

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