There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission on anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
There are many different habits and workouts you can do to improve your life. What about foam rolling, what benefits can you expect?
A foam roller is a piece of stretching equipment that can be described as a cylindrical tube. Foam rolling is using this tube in a variety of exercises to do a form of self-massage.
Some people question how useful this self-massage can be but adding foam rolling sessions to your routine can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
Do pay close attention to using the foam roller the right way to avoid any injuries. Experiencing pain may be a sign that you need to improve your technique.
1. Can reduce muscle soreness
The first benefit of foam rolling is that it can help you reduce muscle soreness. During a workout, you actually damage your muscles. At first, this may not sound good but because of the damage, your body starts processes to repair this damage and improve muscle strength to be better prepared for similar challenges.
By implementing a foam rolling routine you can reduce some of the soreness accompanied by that (1).
One study assigned 80 healthy, physically active, male students, to either a foam rolling at different times after exercise group or a passive-recovery group, doing nothing. They observed that foam rolling diminished delayed-onset muscle soreness and improved recovery of muscle strength more compared to passive recovery (2).
This benefit of foam rolling can be especially helpful if you struggle with getting out of bed the day after a good workout due to muscle soreness.
2. Can improve flexibility
Flexibility is one of the fitness components that comes down to the range of motion specific joints or joint groups can do. By doing foam rolling exercises where you regularly push these boundaries you can increase this range.
Some of the benefits of foam rolling have more mixed research findings but most studies confirm that foam rolling can be a useful habit for improving the range of motion of a variety of body parts (3, 4, 5).
One small study even suggests that foam rolling may be more effective than static and dynamic stretching for acutely increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstrings without hindering muscle strength (6). Although some studies suggest that a combination of foam rolling and stretching is the best for improving flexibility (7, 8).
Generally, older individuals have more flexibility concerns than young individuals. That being said by working on your flexibility when you are still young you can avoid flexibility problems when you get older. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
3. Relatively budget-friendly
Another potential hurdle for many healthy habits is the budget required.
Some habits and exercises require inexpensive equipment starting at a jumping rope to at-home workout machines of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even the investment required for gym subscriptions adds up after a while.
Money put into improving your health is generally a great investment but sometimes you can get the same effects with less. Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive, especially if you compare them to the cost of a few massage sessions. This can be a great benefit depending on your personal situation.
4. Can help you recover faster
Foam rolling can help you recover faster from the inevitable muscle damage you get from working out. This means that your muscle power will return faster to the levels it was before the exercise (9, 10).
This can be partly explained by an increased blood flow in because of foam rolling (11).
Your blood circulation transports both good nutrients to where they can be used and waste substances to where they can get removed from your body. An increase in blood flow to these muscles can in turn shorten recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (12).
5. Can reduce injury risk
The first thing to keep in mind when talking about this benefit of foam rolling is that you need to use your foam roller the right way. Foam rolling in a suboptimal way may have the reverse effect.
Once that is checked off foam rolling may help you reduce your injury risk. One small study with 24 healthy recreationally active participants observed that foam rolling after intense exercise improved knee and ankle perceived stability (13).
This is not the strongest proof but on top of this foam rolling can speed up recovery time. This in turn makes it so you reduce the amount of time you spend moving around with damaged muscles which increases the risk of injury.
More specific studies on this benefit of foam rolling are welcome but if you foam roll the right way you can likely experience a reduced injury risk.
6. Can reduce pain
Foam rolling is considered to be a form of self-myofascial release. Myofascial release is the application of low-intensity forces to soft tissues over a long period of time. Massages are one of the most popular examples of myofascial release.
Myofascial release can help with reducing pain (14). From a theoretical standpoint foam rolling should be able to have similar pain-reducing effects if you do it the right way.
One study with 66 participants with fibromyalgia observed that foam rolling was helpful for reducing symptoms of fibromyalgia that included pain compared to no the control group (15).
Another smaller study concluded that foam rolling was effective for improving hip pain in patients with hip osteoarthritis (16).
This benefit of foam rolling can be helpful for people who often struggle with painful body parts but also just if you have painfully stiff body parts the day after an intense workout.
7. Can improve performance
The next benefit of foam rolling is that it can improve athletic performance in some situations. The studies do not find this effect for all types of exercise.
One big review of studies on the subject suggests that foam rolling may improve sprint performance and strength training performance a small amount (17).
For now, the studies on the effects of foam rolling on performance do not look that impressive. For athletes for who every tenth of a second counts, foam rolling may be a good idea anyway.
How long should you use a foam roller?
So using a foam roller can offer you these helpful benefits. The next question is then how long should you use a foam roller?
One big review of studies suggests that achieving the greatest increase in flexibility comes from 1-3 sets of 15-60 roll repetitions. Each roll repetition, time for a single roll in one direction over the length of a body part, should take about 2-4 seconds (1).
Just like with a habit like stretching, foam rolling is not something you do 1 time to get all the benefits. You want to implement a consistent routine. Foam rolling every day can be helpful but recommendations can vary in your personal situation.
While inevitably some habits and workouts are better for some of these benefits than foam rolling, foam rollers can definitely work. It is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
One thing you need to remember is that foam rolling in a suboptimal way can have negative side effects. If foam rolling hurts this may be a sign you are doing it wrong. Make sure you use the right technique and seek out professional help if needed.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor in a workout plan. The more you love the habits in your routine the easier it becomes to be consistent with your plan.
If foam rolling is a habit you love, great. If not there are plenty of other habits and workouts to consider that can also offer a lot of benefits.