You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a collegiate weight room these days and not see a bunch of 3-foot cylinder shaped foam rollers lying around. Athletes use foam rollers for self-massage in effort to loosen up muscle tissue or help alleviate soreness. Athletes will foam roll before workouts, after workouts or even on their own time to facilitate recovery. Foam rolling has grown in popularity because it tends to make athletes feel better. Though athletes have been foam rolling for several years, there is very little research that investigates the efficacy of foam rolling for eliciting acute changes in performance. Can rolling around on a piece of foam improve performance markers in athletes? Should coaches be encouraging their athletes to foam roll regularly? These are valid questions that warrant investigation.
A recently published study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the acute performance effects that a bout of foam rolling has on performance markers in male (n=13) and female (n=13) active college students. Performance markers included isometric squat force, vertical jump height and power and agility (5-10-5 shuttle). Each subject was tested on 2 occasions separated by 5 days. On one occasion, the subjects performed 30 seconds of foam rolling on the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lats and rhomboids prior to performance testing. On the other occasion the athletes performed “light planking” as a control measure rather than foam rolling. Following each warm-up condition (foam rolling or planking) and again after the performance testing, the athletes filled out surveys regarding soreness, fatigue and perceived exertion. The results showed that there were no differences in performance between the foam rolling and the planking warm-up. The athletes did tend to report higher levels of fatigue following the planking warm-up compared to the foam roll warm-up.
In this group of subjects, foam rolling did not appear to provide any acute improvement in the selected performance markers in this study. Is precious time being wasted before workouts by having the athletes foam roll first? We should not dismiss the effects that foam rolling may have on the athlete’s perceived feelings of overall wellness. Does foam rolling make them feel better? If the answer is yes, then there is likely value and it should not be removed. What about when athletes are in-season or in the midst of intense training? During these periods, soft tissue problems tend to add up. Perhaps foam rolling during these times may offer some benefits. Needless to say, more research is needed in this area.
Healey, K. C., Hatfield, D. L., Blanpied, P., Dorfman, L. R., Riebe, D., & Hatfield, D. L. (2013). The Effects of Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. JSCR, 28(1): 61-68