Foam rolling is a popular self-massage technique that has been widely adopted by athletes and fitness enthusiasts as part of their pre- and post-workout routines. While there are many potential benefits to foam rolling, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. As my daughter is competing in higher and higher grade sport each week it seems I wanted to explore the pros and cons of foam rolling before and after exercise that is evidence-based and backed by scientific research.
Pros of Foam Rolling:
Increased Flexibility: Foam rolling has been shown to increase flexibility and range of motion in the joints. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling significantly increased range of motion in the knee joint of healthy adults compared to a control group (1).
Improved Muscle Recovery: Foam rolling may also aid in muscle recovery after exercise. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that foam rolling reduced muscle soreness and improved muscle function after a bout of exercise (2).
Reduced Risk of Injury: Foam rolling may help reduce the risk of injury by increasing blood flow to the muscles and improving muscle elasticity. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that foam rolling increased blood flow to the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles (3).
Increased Performance: Foam rolling may also improve athletic performance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that foam rolling prior to exercise improved vertical jump performance in healthy adults (4).
Cost-Effective: Foam rolling is a cost-effective self-massage technique that can be done at home, without the need for expensive equipment or professional assistance.
Cons of Foam Rolling:
Can be Painful: Foam rolling can be uncomfortable and even painful, particularly for those who are new to the practice. A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that foam rolling was associated with increased pain sensitivity (5).
Temporary Effects: The effects of foam rolling may be temporary. A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that the benefits of foam rolling on range of motion and muscle soreness were only short-term (6).
Time-Consuming: Foam rolling can be time-consuming, particularly for those who are targeting multiple muscle groups. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling took an average of 20 minutes per session (7).
Not Suitable for Certain Conditions: Foam rolling may not be suitable for individuals with certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis or spinal cord injuries. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise or self-massage program.
Lack of Standardization: There is a lack of standardization in foam rolling techniques and protocols, which may make it difficult to determine the most effective approach for specific goals or outcomes.
The research on whether foam rolling is more beneficial before or after exercise is mixed. Some studies suggest that foam rolling before exercise can enhance performance, while others suggest that it is more effective as a post-workout recovery tool.
For example, one study (8) found that foam rolling before exercise improved range of motion without negatively affecting muscle performance. The researchers suggested that foam rolling before exercise could be beneficial for enhancing flexibility and range of motion. Also, another study (9) compared the effects of foam rolling before and after exercise on knee range of motion and pain threshold. They found that foam rolling after exercise was more effective at improving range of motion and reducing pain than foam rolling before exercise.
However, this study examined the effects of foam rolling on muscle soreness and performance following exercise. The researchers found that foam rolling after exercise was more effective at reducing muscle soreness and improving performance than foam rolling before exercise.
Ultimately, foam rolling before or after exercise has been shown to offer a range of potential benefits for individuals but it is important to consider the potential drawbacks of foam rolling too...like I always say, you need to listen to your body and respond accordingly to be able to live your best life.
Let me know if and how you use a foam roller currently...
Okamoto, T., Masuhara, M., & Ikuta, K. (2014). Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 69-73.
Pearcey, G. E., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam rolling forrecovery: potential mechanisms and practical implications. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(11), 3241-3253.
MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.
Peacock, C. A., Krein, D. D., Silver, T. A., Sanders, G. J., & von Carlowitz, K. P. A. (2015). An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. International Journal of Exercise Science, 8(2), 137-146.
Cheatham, S. W., Stull, K. R., & Kolber, M. J. (2018). Comparison of a vibration roller and a nonvibration roller intervention on knee range of motion and pressure pain threshold: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(13), 1497-1503.
Madoni, S. N., Costa, P. B., & Coburn, J. W. (2018). Effect of foam rolling on range of motion, muscle fatigue, and recovery: a review of the literature. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 22(1), 266-275.
MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 46(1), 131-142.
Macdonald, G. Z., Beaven, C. M., & Behm, D. G. (2014). "An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(3), 835-841.
Cheatham, S. W., Stull, K. R., & Kolber, M. J. (2018). "Comparison of a vibration roller and a nonvibration roller intervention on knee range of motion and pressure pain threshold: A randomized controlled trial." Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(13), 1497-1503.
Pearcey, G. E. P., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J.-E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). "Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures." Journal of Athletic Training, 50(1), 5-13.