There are times when science leads to better training methods. There are other times with science only comes in after the fact to validate what we are already doing. In the case of foam rolling as a recovery tool for runners and triathletes, science has finally validated us.
The theory has always been massage of any kind breaks up the adhesion (read: knots) in our muscles and allows them to “grow” back in nice straight lines like muscle fibers should be. As a result of this, muscle length increases and/or we have a greater range of motion (ROM). Up until 2012 there was very little data either proving or disproving these claims. Now we have some data.
One study showed that ROM increased for up to 6 days post-self massage with a foam roller when combined with static stretching (J Sport Rehab, Jan 2014). This differs from most static stretching studies that generally did not result in any lasting ROM improvement.
The best piece of info to come from these studies is that there appears to be no change to muscle force production as a result of foam rolling and self-massage (Int J Sport Phys Training, June 2013; J St Con Res, Mar 2013). This is great news. For years those of us who felt better after stretch were forced to face the facts that stretching has the potential to decrease performance. Foam rolling on the other hand, can be done prior to activity without the potential loss of perfromance.
And, finally, in the category of “Oh, Duh!” yet another study found that foam rolling leads to a decrease in pain at 24, 48, and 72 hours after activity (Med Sci Sport Ex, Jan 2014). But you already knew that.
In summary, why foam roll?
- Increased range of motion
- No side effects
- Feels good/decrease soreness
And when it doubt, if it feels good – do it.