08 Apr

The What, Why, and How of Foam Rolling

They see me rolling

You’ve seen them in the gym, at your friend’s house, on the internet, but what are they and how do you use them?

Foam rolling is a form of self-manual therapy that has turned techniques once only used by professional therapists, into an accessible everyday practice for individuals of all fitness levels.  Increased levels of flexibility, improved recovery and athletic performance are a few reasons why foam rolling has become a common ritual.


How does it work?

Using your own body mass, pressure is applied to the soft tissue in a direct and sweeping manner, stretching and generating friction between the muscles and the foam roller.  Myofascial, referring to the interaction between the muscle and fascia, is a common term you may hear surrounding this topic.  Myofascial tightness is believed to cause a reduction in the range of motion and blood flow to the joint.  The pressure applied by foam rolling reduces this tightness (myofascial release), enabling the tissue to become softer and more pliable.


When is the best time to foam roll?

Pre training:

Watched people have a quick roll out before they workout? Thought about trying it yourself? Do!  Studies have shown that compared to both static and dynamic stretching, foam rolling improves flexibility above both, without hampering muscle strength, something we all want more of!  Beyond this, further studies have shown that self-myofascial release as part of a warm up routine can improve subsequent power, agility, strength and speed when used in conjunction with a dynamic warm up.  There have been no studies that have revealed a negative impact of rolling prior to exercise, something to consider if you’re looking to find those marginal gains. 

Post training:

Fed up of feeling sore for days after your workout? Foam rolling has also been shown to be an effective addition to your cool down regime, speeding up the recovery process through the reduction in the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  During periods of heavy training, or times where quick recovery is necessary, manual therapy may be a beneficial tool to speed up recovery time.  Positive effects have been presented for both agility and dynamic performance measures when compared to recovery without foam rolling. 

With research still premature regarding this topic and how it truly affects the muscle, its practical application is yet to be solidified.  Thus far foam rolling is proven to be a great tool to use in both your warm up and cool down routine but is not best used in isolation as the only parameter to improve performance.  So next time you see a roller in the distance, use it!     


by: reagan dee, level 3 personal trainer and fitness club assistant at Cycle 360