There has been a lot of different opinions when it comes to foam rolling. Some people swear by it while others says it is a total waste of time and highlights the foam-roller as the most over-hyped accessory in the fitness industry. But now finally there has been some scientific research that looked into the matter and shed some light on it. It will probably not put the arguments to rest and I would be surprised if it’s the last research paper on this subject, but nevertheless it is a good place to start. For good measure the link to the study is in the bottom of this post.
I can’t even remember where I heard about foam rolling for the first time, something inside me says it was probably Kelly Starrett – but whether that is just because he has been at the forefront of the proponents or it was actually the case I can’t remember.
My opinion about it however has stayed somewhat neutral. I am in no way against it but does in no way see it as the holy grail of neither warm-up nor mobility practice. My main use of it has always been to release some tension in the upper back. For this it is absolutely brilliant! But rolling around smashing my quads or hamstrings before squatting for instance never really caught on with me. I have always been a proponent of warming up with the movements you are about to do in your training.
But now the big question is whether I should abandon my usual practice and go all-in on the foam roller or stick with what I have been doing so far?
This first research paper focused on stretching and flexibility of the hamstring by comparing PNF stretching with foam rolling and a control group. For good measure PNF stretching is where you contract and release into the stretch and is generally seen as superior to static stretching and therefore a good and high measure on which to compare foam rolling.
The unsurprising find of the study was that PNF works compared to the control group – we know that. But the surprising find is that the foam-rolling group gained as much flexibility as the PNF group. In other words the foam rolling actually gave as much flexibility as what is otherwise seen as the superior way of gaining flexibility. I had by no mean expected that! I could perhaps have understood if it stood the ground against some weaker static stretching but this finding is quite surprising.
So this leaves me with my original question to answer: will I abandon my usual practice and go on a foam-rolling frenzy. Probably not. For one this study only looked at flexibility and not warm-up. I still believe the best way to warm-up is to do the actual movements you are about to perform to both get blood into the muscles but also get the CNS firing the rigth places. But I must admit that this study perhaps will have me spend some more time foam-rolling, not the least in times where I feel tight in some areas.
There you have it – science now backs foam-rolling. That must be the news of the week from the fitness world, something that is hyped and actually seems to work. It is even affordable if you get the basic version from amazon: BLACK High Density Foam Roller or if you want the Rolls Royce: Trigger Point Performance Foam Roller, Orange
And finally of course the link to the actual study: The foam roll as a tool to improve hamstring flexibility