The Effects of Foam Rolling
Foam rolling has become a staple in the majority of athletic training programmes and even for recreational use, simply due to its practicality and alleged performance-enhancing effects such as increased ROM, enhanced recovery, and improved performance. Whilst these effects have been primarily based upon practical knowledge, scientific empirical evidence on this topic has begun to grow and identify the true impacts of foam rolling on performance.
Foam Rolling and Flexibility
In the past few years, many investigations have been conducted on the effects of foam rolling on flexibility (1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 12). Evidence has shown that foam rolling does improve short-term (acute) flexibility and that this improvement lasts up to, but no longer than, 10-minutes (1, 2, 3). Moreover, foam rolling has also been shown to improve long-term (chronic) flexibility when it is performed on a regular basis (9, 10, 11). Whilst foam rolling has been proven to increase joint ROM, there appears to be no further improvement in flexibility between 5 sets of 20- and 60-second repetitions – meaning a 20-second repetition seems to be just as effective as 60 seconds (12).
Foam Rolling and Performance
Historically static stretching has been a cornerstone of a typical warm-up routine to increase flexibility, at least until recent years where it has been shown to reduce force production (13, 14), power output (15), running speed (16), reaction time (17), and strength endurance (18). In addition to dynamic stretching, foam rolling has also been making an introduction into warm-up routines almost as a replacement to static stretching, or at least as an additive.
Despite a lack of research on the topic, foam rolling has repeatedly shown to have no negative impact on athletic performance (2, 19, 20). In fact, one study has even shown that foam rolling can even improve subsequent power, agility, strength, and speed when used in conjunction with dynamic preparatory movements (4). As a result, perhaps foam rolling makes a worthwhile addition to general warm-up routines.
Foam Rolling and Recovery
One of the prime reasons for the use of foam rolling is to speed-up the recovery process post-exercise and reduce the effects of DOMS. However, until recent years there has been very little evidence-based information to validate the effectiveness of this technique. Having said this, recent research has demonstrated that foam rolling can reduce the sensation of DOMS following exercise (1, 3, 21).
Apart from the positive effects of foam rolling upon DOMS, little else is known regarding how foam rolling can influence the speed of recovery from physical activity. Regardless, the ability of foam rolling to reduce the sensations of DOMS following exercise should suggest that this technique may serve as a valuable tool for athletes – particularly during strenuous training and competition periods.