Fact vs. Fiction: Does Foam Rolling Actually Work?

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An athlete who used a foam roller before starting her workout lifts a barbell over her head

In the ultra-competitive world of athletics, athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and recovery. It may be with the tried and true methods of proper sleep, eating and hydration or with other methods such as massage therapy, whole-body vibration and compression garments.

But, how many of these claims are legitimate and which ones are just another trend being promoted for profit? We’ve rounded up info on some of these questionable commodities to answer that very question in our brand new blog series: Fact vs. Fiction

To kick off the series, let's take a look at something we all know and love...

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has gained popularity and become the most favored form of self-manual therapy amongst athletes. The purpose of foam rolling is to massage and stretch underlying tissue, more specifically, the fascial connective tissue. This is accomplished by using the cylindrical, foam covered device to apply pressure to a specific body part (i.e. back of thighs) helping to eliminate scar-tissue and soft-tissue adhesion.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s fact or fiction when it comes to claims about this inexpensive and portable product’s impact on athletic performance and recovery! 

Performance

Most studies show no enhancing effects on athletic performance from foam rolling. For example, foam rolling had no effect on the following variables: maximum strength, power, anaerobic capacity, explosive strength and anaerobic power. 

One study investigated the effects of foam rolling on muscle performance and hip joint range of motion. Participants foam rolled and were then tested on their performance with vertical height jumps, 20-yard dash, hamstring flexibility and knee extension strength. The results showed no significant improvement in their athletic performance. Even when foam rolling is compared to other techniques, such as a dynamic warm-up, there is still no improvement to athletic performance.

Recovery

Even though research doesn’t support foam rolling’s effect on athletic performance, there are some benefits seen when it comes to recovery. 

One study researched whether foam rolling had an effect on delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the muscle soreness and structural damage to muscles common after an exhaustive activity. After participants exerted themselves by performing barbell back squats, they were tested using pressure-pain threshold (which measures muscle tenderness, or the “minimal amount of pressure that causes pain”). Participants were tested for pressure pain threshold immediately after performing the exercise, 24 hours after, and again 48 hours after. 

The results showed strong evidence in favor of foam rolling reducing DOMS. A meta-analysis that investigated participants who performed foam rolling after an intense bout of exercise also found that foam rollers are a useful tool post-exercise. Foam rolling helped to alleviate the severity of pain and was seen to be more effective than roller massagers. 

To sum it up, studies show that foam rolling can aid in the recovery process, but not with athletic performance. To get the full benefits of this athletic product, it’s best to use this tool post workout!

Join us next week when we take a deep dive into the effectiveness of compression garments! 

While this blog series references multiple studies in order to support or debunk claims about various athletic products available on the market today, Presagia Sports does not necessarily claim that the results definitively represent the value and effectiveness of each product. We encourage you to conduct your own independent research. 


Want more Fact vs. Fiction? Check out our the other posts in the series (links to be added as published) and don't forget to subscribe to our blog to receive updates the moment they go live!

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