Foam roll for better recovery

March 21, 2016

The foam roller, used for myofascial release (aka, self-massage) has some pretty tremendous benefits.


This alternative medicine therapy aims to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulate the stretch reflex in muscles.


If you haven't been using a foam roller as part of your health and fitness regimen, well, shame on you. Read on to see how beneficial it is to give yourself a little self-massage. If, however, you have been foam rolling to your heart's content, well, let me explain just how awesome FR is!


Check out a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:


Purpose: The objective of this study is to understand the effectiveness of foam rolling (FR) as a recovery tool after exercise-induced muscle damage, analyzing thigh girth, muscle soreness, range of motion (ROM), evoked and voluntary contractile properties, vertical jump, perceived pain while FR, and force placed on the foam roller.


Methods: Twenty male subjects (≥3 yr of strength training experience) were randomly assigned into the control (n = 10) or FR (n = 10) group. All the subjects followed the same testing protocol. The subjects participated in five testing sessions: 1) orientation and one-repetition maximum back squat, 2) pretest measurements, 10 × 10 squat protocol, and POST-0 (posttest 0) measurements, along with measurements at 3) POST-24, 4) POST-48, and 5) POST-72. The only between-group difference was that the FR group performed a 20-min FR exercise protocol at the end of each testing session (POST-0, POST-24, and POST-48).


Results: FR substantially reduced muscle soreness at all time points while substantially improving ROM. FR negatively affected evoked contractile properties with the exception of half relaxation time and electromechanical delay (EMD), with FR substantially improving EMD. Voluntary contractile properties showed no substantial between-group differences for all measurements besides voluntary muscle activation and vertical jump, with FR substantially improving muscle activation at all time points and vertical jump at POST-48. When performing the five FR exercises, measurements of the subjects’ force placed on the foam roller and perceived pain while FR ranged between 26 and 46 kg (32%–55% body weight) and 2.5 and 7.5 points, respectively.

Conclusion: The most important findings of the present study were that FR was beneficial in attenuating muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic ROM in comparison with control. FR negatively affected several evoked contractile properties of the muscle, except for half relaxation time and EMD, indicating that FR benefits are primarily accrued through neural responses and connective tissue.


This is great news for what you would consider to be the "Average Joe." Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS is a complaint amongst a lot of exercisers/fitness enthusiasts. Sure, a bit of DOMS after a workout feels pretty good. It is a that mental signal letting you know that you worked hard and are improving yourself. On the other hand, if you can't walk properly for a few days then other means should be taken to help prevent that level of soreness.


For athletes this is great news as well. Whether you are a professional hockey, football, tennis player, or even a body builder or strength athlete, the quicker your body can turn around and recover from a training session allows you to train more effectively and more frequently, increasing your chance of success.


One thing should be noted, however:


FR negatively affected several evoked contractile properties of the muscle


Foam rolling appears to negatively affect muscle's ability to contract, or generate force (strength). So, foam rolling should be kept to your post-workout recovery, rather than prior to your training, according to this study.


Tyler Robbins B.Sc. CSCS
Director of Fitness
Head of CrossFit

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