Love it or hate it, foam rolling is probably the best weapon you’ve got in your exercise arsenal. Self-massage with a foam roller (or even a tennis ball!) can increase range of motion while expediting nutrient-rich blood to your tired body, keeping soreness and stiffness at bay.
Unlike static stretching of tight muscles, which can impair athletic performance, foam rolling can provide relief without sacrificing your PR. In fact, foam rolling may even improve performance, according to one recent study!
“Foam rolling and roller massage have been shown in our research to accelerate recovery from exercise-induced muscle soreness and the accompanying symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness [DOMS],” says Dr. Kevin Behm of Memorial University of Newfoundland. “We showed that rolling every day after the damaging and painful exercise allowed the subjects to decrease the muscle soreness and recover their vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic ROM [range of motion] in comparison to no rolling during the DOMS.”
Behm’s research also demonstrated that self-massage can have an immediate effect on muscle tender spots. In this study, subjects had tender spots identified on one of their calves, which they rolled briefly. The results revealed that rolling or massaging that calf improved pain tolerance instantaneously. What was really interesting is that rolling the unaffected calf reduced pain in the affected calf!
Though many athletes know foam rolling is the right thing to do, most athletes don’t know how to do it right: How often should one roll? Does it matter how long a muscle gets rolled out? Is it supposed to hurt this freakin’ much?
We asked Behm, who said most of us overthink the process. It doesn’t have to be so complicated!
Keys to Foam Rolling Like a Boss
Want to know how to target specific muscles with self-massage? Check out this post from No Meat Athlete, which has lots of pictures to walk you through the process.
Are you friends or frenemies with your foam roller? —Susan