Foam rollers. You’ve probably encountered these little, cylindrical torture devices before or at least seen them in use. If you have, you’re likely familiar with the painful grimaces that appear whenever anyone is crushing their limbs with them. So what are foam rollers and why do people use them?
As the name suggests, foam rollers are foam tubes – generally wrapped around a sturdy plastic core – that are used for a form of self-massage. More clinically called, self-myofascial release, the basic idea here is to knead out any knots that may have developed in your muscles by pushing your own body weight against the roller. Is there any real benefit to the practice, though?
Science says yes. Just in case you don’t believe us, here’s a list of 10 benefits of foam rolling.
Improved flexibility – Several studies in the past have found that the classic warmup of static stretches (like touching your toes for 20 seconds) can actually reduce the power of your muscles afterward. So, while static stretches most definitely improve flexibility, they aren’t always the best choice for athletes. Recent research has shown that foam rolling can increase your range of motion without sacrificing your power – but we’ll talk more about that later.
Reduced soreness – By crushing any knots or tender spots that may have developed in your muscles, foam rolling can help to both relieve and prevent muscle soreness. One 2014 study showed that just 20-minutes of foam rolling was enough to reduce muscle soreness after an intense 10×10 squat workout.
Reduced fatigue – Similarly, studies have shown that the reduced soreness also translates to reduced fatigue. The really fascinating aspect of this is that these benefits occur both during and after exercise. So, yes, not feeling as tired after your workouts is nice and convenient and everything. Not getting exhausted during the activity, though? That means longer, more effective workouts. Which brings us to benefit number four…
Improved performance – Considering the other benefits on this list, the conclusion that foam rolling can improve your performance is a fairly logical one. It should be noted, however, that these improvements aren’t always what people expect. As mentioned, you will be able to workout longer and specific exercises have shown to benefit significantly from the muscle-mashing. Other activities, though, don’t appear to change at all.
Increased blood flow – By releasing knots and tightness in your muscles, foam rolling can allow your blood to move more freely. This, in fact, is one of the key reasons that you can expect the other benefits listed here. More blood means more oxygen and nutrients, as well as reduced accumulation of waste in your muscles.
Reduced risk of injury – Self-myofascial release prevents injuries in multiple ways. The improved range of motion allows you to move more freely without breaking yourself. Increased blood flow and reduced soreness also mean that you can workout without fear of the dreaded overuse injury.
Improved jump height – Interestingly, jumping is one of the few movements that appears to actually improve with foam rolling. This is likely due to increased flexibility and muscle activation joining forces to produce more powerful muscle contractions.
More efficient movement – Any form of flexibility training will help you to move better and more efficiently. As we’ve covered, though, foam rolling both increases flexibility and reduces muscle soreness – a combination that standard stretching isn’t capable of, despite the claims otherwise.
Better workouts – You can expect “better workouts” as a result of all the above-noted benefits. Less fatigue, less soreness, improve performance, and a reduced risk of injury. Sounds like a great workout.
Accessibility – Finally, some sort of roller is pretty easy to get your hands on. Of course, you can purchase an official roller at a fairly low price, but many people have had great success in making their own. Lacrosse balls are also a perfect way to dig into smaller trouble spots. Either way, you can devise something with a pretty limited investment that can easily come with you wherever you workout.