If you are reading this article you’ve probably seen, tested or witnessed someone using a foam roller in your gym in an endeavour to “improve mobility’ or ‘increase range of motion’ on a particular area of their body. Together with free-weights and cardio machines, the foam roller has become a staple piece of equipment in all gyms across the world. Furthermore, along with other self-care items such as lacrosse balls and resistance bands, we are now witnessing a shift in focus amongst athletes and gym-goers in so much that they are doing their level best to take care of their body and prevent future injury.
In spite of this, what if I told you that what you are doing right now is not efficient and with a few minor changes you could be far more productive? If this is what you are after then this article is for you. For your benefit, we will be covering “How To Optimally Use A Foam Roller” and show you our “Top 5’ exercises that you can start to use right away
Will Foam Rolling Actually Help Improve Your Range Of Motion?
Now that we have an idea as to why people use a foam roller in the first place, we can start to investigate a little bit further into the what they are trying to achieve by doing it and where we think that you can see a more useful breakthrough.
People incorporate foam rolling into two primary stages of their training session; either immediately before-hand as part of their warm-up or shortly after a session to kickstart the recovery process. This is because there is a generous amount of evidence supporting the belief that foam rolling can enhance joint range of motion (ROM), initiate the recovery process by reducing acute muscle soreness, and improve post-exercise muscle performance.
To an extent each of these points is valid, however, the literature advocating the purpose of foam rolling/ myofascial release is still emerging and therefore needs to be examined with caution.
In a 2015 study, Bushell et al measured the effects of foam rolling on joint ROM. Thirty-one subjects were assigned to participate in three testing sessions that were held one week apart with pre‐test and immediate post‐test measures. The authors found a significant increase in hip extension ROM, however, the documented measures returned to baseline values after one week. Similarly, Peacock et al (2015) found that a pre-exercise foam rolling intervention contributed to significant increases in sit and reach performance (hamstring flexibility test).
The results of this study once again confirm that you can, in fact, increase ROM at a muscular level, however, it should be noted that the changes in tissue structure were not long-standing.
What About Post Exercise Recovery, Can Foam Rolling Improve This?
Several studies have been carried out that measure the impact of foam rolling on “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (DOMS) following an exercise-induced muscle damage programme.
An article that stood out to us the most was written by MacDonald et al (2014) who validated that foam rolling reduced overall pain levels following high bouts of strength training. This view was supported by Pearcey et al (2015) who noted similar results, however, they additionally identified that foam rolling had a positive influence on various performance indicators such as sprint speed and vertical jump performance.
These results are all well and good, yet, when we take a look at things from a muscle recovery perspective then we see that the evidence is still in need of further validation. In a systematic review of the performance benefits of foam rolling, two studies (Peacock et al 2015 and Mikesky et al 2002) appraised that using a foam roller showed no acute improvements in muscle performance measures.
So What Can Foam Rolling Help You With Then?
Based on the above results it is safe to say that foam rolling does have its benefits. As a matter of fact, even if the results are placebo or short-lived, then that is good enough for us and without doubt, we would advise that people integrate this into their warm-up & recovery routines.
Some people use a foam roller for myofascial release by itself. We think you can do better! So here is a list of exercises that we would recommend you to do with a foam roller that will take your recovery game to the next level.
Coaches Comments: Sit down on the floor placing the foam roller under one of your calf muscles. Brace your arms behind you for support. Your foot should be off the floor at this stage. Roll the roller up and down the back of your calf to create a deep stretch. If you want a deeper stretch then you should cross one leg over the other. Repeat this process on both sides for a total of 15-20 repetitions.
Coaches Comments: Sit down on the floor placing the foam roller under the lower part of your buttock (the side that you are looking to work). Brace your arms behind you, keeping the leg you are working on both limp & straight, then bend your opposite knee with your foot flat on the floor. Roll the roller up and down the back of your leg from the position you are in all the way to just above the knee. Repeat this process on both sides for a total of 15-20 repetitions.
Coaches Comments: Sit down on the roller so that it is placed under either the left or right
buttock. Brace your arms behind you, keeping the leg you are working on the roller. Cross the same leg over the other leg which should be outstretched with your foot flat on the floor. Roll the roller up and down the back of your buttock. Repeat this process on both sides for a total of 15-20 repetitions.
Coaches Comments: Lie face down on the floor with your elbows also rested on the floor. Place the roller on the front of your thighs (whichever side you choose to work on first). Roll the roller up and down the front of your leg. Repeat this process on both sides for a total of 15-20 repetitions
Coaches Comments: Lie on the floor with the roller placed under the side of your leg. Support yourself using your arms & roll the roller up and down the side of your leg to create a stretch. If you find this too difficult, take some of the pressure off the roller by using your arms to lift your body. Repeat this process on both sides for a total of 15-20 repetitions
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Bushell JE Dawson SM Webster MM. Clinical Relevance of Foam Rolling on Hip Extension Angle in a Functional Lunge Position. J Strength Cond Res. 2015.
Peacock CA Krein DD Antonio J, et al. Comparing acute bouts of sagittal plane progression foam rolling vs. frontal plane progression foam rolling. J Strength Cond Res. 2015.
Macdonald GZ Button DC Drinkwater EJ, et al. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014
Pearcey GE Bradbury‐Squires DJ Kawamoto JE, et al. Foam rolling for delayed‐onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015
Mikesky AE Bahamonde RE Stanton K, et al. Acute effects of the Stick on strength, power, and flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 2002