We've probably all seen a foam roller about in a gym. And we've probably all said to ourselves 'I should do that more often' more than once.
What is it and why do it?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, essentially self massage. We put our body weight on the foam roller, and move up and down to find points of tightness and pain, and try to release the knots using the hard surface of the roller. Foam rolling can be pretty uncomfortable when you train hard and regularly, especially with lingering DOMS. Factors such as poor posture and desk work can make maintenance even more essential to reduce injury risk from poor mobility.
Sometimes stretching alone is not enough to release tightness. One of the strengths of foam rolling is that we can control the amount of pressure. It is a good stepping stone before investing in deep tissue massage. Foam rolling is cheap, can be done on your own, and takes as long as you want it to.
In basic terms, self-myofascial release increases blood flow to a tight area, to encourage healing and recovery.
What the science says
One study on 26 healthy individuals found no direct links between foam rolling and performance but concluded that 'the reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements.
On the other hand, another found that '[foam rolling] was beneficial in attenuating muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic ROM in comparison with control.'
It seems that foam rolling can reduce muscle soreness, and may increase performance, rather directly or indirectly, dependent on sport. It is best used as part of a sound warm up/cool down protocol and in conjunction with a healthy diet and adequate water intake.
Key places to focus on
-ITB (iliotibial band)
-Thoracic spine (upper back)
Roll until you find an area of tightness or pain. Pause in this position until the discomfort eases. Drink plenty of water after foam rolling to assist in the removal of waste.
Foam rolling and static stretching post-workout is a great routine to get into to encourage a more parasympathetic state. At the very least, make time for this 1-2 times a week!