I’m going to start this off by saying that I’m a big proponent of foam rolling (For the right reasons). I think foam rolling often gets thrown under the bus because some experts think that foam rolling is the greatest thing since sliced bread (Does anyone say that anymore?). They’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time rolling just about every part of their body and then won’t have time left over to train.
Also, many people promote foam rolling as an effective tool for things it hasn’t been proven to do, like reducing injury. To the best of my knowledge, this has yet to be proven and there are certainly other things that could probably aid a lot more in prevention then foam rolling (Like a well rounded and specific strengthening and conditioning program). To add to this, a lot of the improvements in mobility that come from foam rolling are short term in nature (Unless performed consistently over time).
For these reasons, you get some experts saying that foam rolling is an absolute waste of time. I think the main reason for this are a lack of understanding, coupled with people utilizing this tool for the wrong reasons. However, if we better understand what foam rolling actually does (and doesn’t do) we can use it effectively in our programs. I wanted to share an article I think that’s very illuminating (and promising) about some of the effects of foam rolling.
They took 8 “recreationally trained” men and had them go through a squat session from hell (10 sets of 10 rep back squats) designed to create a lot of soreness (Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). One of the groups was instructed to perform foam rolling after the session. They performed 2 sets of 45 seconds of rolling to the quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, IT bands and glutes. The other group did not.
Athletes were tested 2, 3 and 4 days following the squat protocol with a 30 meter sprint speed test, standing broad jump, T-test (change of direction test) and maximal back squats @70% of 1 rep max. Understandably, the athletes were not as fast in the days following the squat session from hell. Their performance parameters all slowly improved over the next few days as their bodies recovered.
What was interesting is that the group that performed the foam rolling following the session had increased performance over the control group.
What this means to me is that foam rolling might be a good tool after very challenging workout sessions that create a lot of DOMS. As a athlete you’re constantly being called on to train at a high level for days in a row when the body hasn’t always had the full capacity to recover. Adding in some foam rolling to major muscle groups after intense sessions is probably prudent. The other scenario where foam rolling could be very helpful would be in a multi-day competition, like the Crossfit Games. Athletes are routinely called on to perform DOMS inducing events and could potentially stave off performance detriments throughout the event and reduce their soreness.
So there you have it, another few reasons not to throw foam rolling under the bus,
Dan Pope DPT, CSCS, OCS
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