Keep rolling, rolling, rolling…
They are in every box, gym, yoga studio, and sports club in all shapes and sizes, textures and densities! I get a lot of questions about foam rollers!
How often? How hard? How long? Before or after exercise? Which muscles?
Chris Beardsley, a well-known sports science writer, wrote an informative article in 2013 looking at some of the evidence around foam rolling: http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/10/01/foam-rolling/
The article is well worth a read! It got me thinking so here is my take on things…
What tissues are we actually affecting?
Fascia – mainly. Fascia is an uninterrupted viscoelastic tissue, which forms a functional 3-dimensional collagen matrix. Basically, fascia surrounds and penetrates every structure in the body, head to toe. It is an innervated, continuous, functional organ of stability and motion. And it is tough!
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release. What is myofascial release? That is another well-debated subject! It has been suggested that applying pressures to tissues can:
1) Rehydrate tissues
2) Reduce pain (a neural response?)
3) Improve vascular function
4) Release trigger points and break up adhesions
5) Reduce the effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
6) Improve tissue range of motion (ROM).
What is the evidence?
There is limited, good quality evidence; however, Chris Beardsley has summarised the findings so far:
1. Foam rolling may reduce arterial stiffness, improve arterial function and improve vascular endothelial function – therefore potentially increase blood flow.
2. Foam rolling may have no detrimental effects on athletic performance pre-workout – therefore no effect.
3. Foam rolling may increase joint ROM while not impeding the production of muscular force or rate of force development – pre workout mobility could increase range. It is at least as effective as static stretching however does not reduce performance which static stretching has been shown to do (http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Differential_effects_of_30_s_vs__60_s_static.97324.aspx)
4. Foam rolling does not acutely affect counter-movement, squat or depth jump performance. A dynamic warm-up is better.
5. There is mixed evidence on whether foam rolling increases flexibility long term.
6. Foam rolling reduces muscle soreness. A more recent study concluded that the reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements (http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2014/01000/The_Effects_of_Myofascial_Release_With_Foam.8.aspx).
When should you foam roll?
Based on the evidence and also clinical experience these are the recommendations:
– Foam roll myofascial structures to increase joint ROM pre-workout. Be specific – work on the areas that you have problems with and be specific to the exercise you are about to perform. Don’t replace a dynamic warm-up – supplement it.
– Use foam rolling post-workout for quicker short-term recovery.
– Regular use may help longer-term recovery and sustained performance.
– Make it functional – get into end of range or dynamic positions to mimic what you are going to exercise.
– It doesn’t work for everything – use other tools and types of mobility drills too!
How should I foam roll?
I work on trigger points. These have been well mapped out by Travell and Simon’s (http://www.triggerpoints.net/). Find a ‘tender’ or ‘tight’ spot, and then apply pressure with the roller for up to 20 seconds. IF it has started to ease, stay on it for another ten seconds then release. 30 seconds maximum – you don’t want an ischemic response, which will just be painful and may actually start to damage the tissue. Try to work through a few specific trigger points along the structure you are working on. Spend 60-90 seconds rolling out the area, then move on! This shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to be effective – even when looking at a large area like the lateral thigh / Illiotibial band (ITB).
I also really like it for thoracic extension – more of a joint mobilisation. Great pre-Olympic lifting and for any overhead movements where extension is key:
Not a bad video demonstrating basic positions for foam rolling:
So there you have it! As always, if you have any questions please feel free to grab me or contact me!