Does Foam Rolling Work, and What Does it Do?

Fit man and woman foam rolling

For all the hype around foam-rolling these days, it may be surprising to know that we still don’t know for certain what’s happening when we do it. The underlying mechanisms are still not well understood and there’s a paucity of high-quality and well-designed studies available for us to draw conclusions from. So, with this quick post, we’re going to look at the two main questions that come up. Does foam rolling work, and what does foam rolling do?

Does Foam Rolling Work?

The short of it is, yes. But, we still don’t actually know how this form of self-massage works. Some of the proposed mechanisms of effect may include:

  1. Reflex neural inhibition
  2. Increased stretch tolerance
  3. Mediating pain-modulatory systems

And What Does It Do?

What we do know is that foam rolling appears to be effective for producing short-term gains in flexibility without reducing performance.

There also appears to be a demonstrable reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness as a result of post-exercise rolling. Benefits on muscle function, however, have not yet been established.

So, from the research that we do have, it’s safe to say that foam-rollers are perhaps not the miracle saviours we once thought they were. It certainly doesn’t wield the power to undo the damage of poor exercises choices or not moving enough in the first place.

How Does Foam Rolling Work For Me?

My primary aim when incorporating self-massage through foam rolling is as follows: 

  1. Reduce ‘tone’ or activation in a certain area. Aka, dim it down. 
  2. With this newly acquired (and short-lived) range of motion, get into better, less constrained movement and training positions.
  3. Bring the heat with a solid, beast-making training session and win the day. 
  4. Post-exercise, to reduce soreness onset. Maybe. 

Reference

  1. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Wiewelhove, et al. 2019
  2. The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching: Implications and Applications in Sport Performance and Health. Behm, 2018.

Danny James

Danny James is a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer in Sydney, Australia. He has over ten years of experience working with the fastest track and field youth athletes in the country. He lives in Glebe with his beautiful wife Fabiana. Sign up for Danny's free newsletter and receive tips, insights and exclusive email-only content.

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