Foam Roller: Great Tool or Pseudoscience

My foam roller is one of my favorite tools in my gym bag. Before a run, after a run, and when I’m sore from training, it just seems to always do the work. However, even if it feels great, I’m not really sure of how much of an impact it has on my recovery and performance.

In recent years, the use of foam rollers and massage bars/balls/sticks have increased in popularity, both with amateur and professional athletes. A 2019 meta-analysis by Weiwelhove et al. reviews the “effects of pre-rolling and post-rolling on performance, flexibility, and muscle pain outcomes in healthy and physically active individuals.”

The foam roller is an increasingly popular tool; is it backed by science?

Pre-Rolling

After looking at all their data about the use of rolling as a warm-up activity, Weiwelhove et al. only found performance improvements for sprinting. The effects of its use were negligible on jump and strength performance. Even then, “the effects of pre-rolling on sprint performance seem to be more relevant for elite athletes” (Wiewelhove et al. 2019) because of greater within-athlete variability in amateurs. “Consequently, sprint performance results should be interpreted with caution, as the number of available studies was limited and only two of them showed a clear positive effect” (Wiewelhove et al. 2019). Alternatively, these effects could have been caused by the warm-up due to the athlete’s support of its own body weight, or because of placebo. There doesn’t seem to be a clear link between foam-rolling and performance.

On the other hand, pre-rolling’s greatest effect seemed to be on flexibility, where the author’s findings indicate that “62% of the population will experience short-term improvements in flexibility when using pre-rolling as a pre-exercise warm-up” (Wiewelhove et al. 2019).

Post-Rolling

After review of the available literature, foam-rolling seems to recover the drop in sprint and strength performance quicker than passive recovery. However, the authors suggest that this should be interpreted with caution because of the limited number of studies.

As this review shows, there is a lack of research surrounding the effects, and especially the mechanisms behind foam rolling. Some studies seem to show positive effects, but others find the opposite. If you, like me, feel some benefits from its use, then go for it. However, there is no scientific consensus behind the use of self-massage tools for performance or recovery.

Originally published at https://theaveragerunner.blog.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store