Is Foam Rolling Overrated? Performance & Recovery Effects

What are the effects of foam rolling on flexibility, recovery, and performance? 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 studies available for us to draw conclusions from.

Some of the proposed mechanisms of effect may include:

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

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-rolling is perhaps not the miracle saviour that we once thought it was.

Nor does it wield the power to undo the damage of poor exercises choices or not moving enough in the first place.

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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