Science

Foam rolling and performance

In recent years, foam rolling has become a common practice in all kinds of sport settings. It is highly regarded within the efficiency of training or competition preparation and for accelerating post-exercise recovery (Healey et al., 2014; Jones et al., 2015; Monteiro and Neto, 2016). 

The study of Pearcey et al. (2015) investigated the effects of foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense training through assessment of pressure-pain threshold, sprint time, change-of-direction speed, power, and dynamic strength-endurance. Their participants should go through a 20-minute rolling program after a strength exercise. Each muscle group should be rolled slowly for 45 seconds (2-3 times). Using this approach, they found that foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures.

The meta-analysis of Wiewelhove et al. (2019) summarized the results of 21 studies with a total number of 454 subjects. They examined the effects and implications of pre- and post-rolling with a foam roller or a massage roller (massage bars/ stick):

Pre-rolling: Preparation of training or competition 

Pre-rolling resulted in a small improvement in sprint performance (+0.7%) and strength performance (+1,8%). The studies investigating the effects of pre-rolling on performance and flexibility, used a cylindrical foam roller resulted in an overall performance (+2.7%) and an improved flexibility (5.0%). 

The research suggests that pre-rolling may offer small short-term benefits in promoting flexibility without negatively affecting muscle performance. 

If we remember the last science Friday 'static vs. dynamic stretching' we know that static stretching for more than 60 seconds can lead to a negative effect on performance. This is an important finding to consider when putting together a warm-up program, since training and competition preparation should always aim to enhance performance. 

Post-rolling: Recovery after strenuous training/competition

Post-rolling proved to be helpful, as the fatigue caused by training was reduced during sprinting (+3.1%) and strength training (+5.6%). The largest average effects of foam rolling in general and post-rolling in particular were found for the alleviation of perceived muscle pain (+6.0%).

The effects of post-rolling on performance should be interpreted with caution, not all results were significant and the number of available studies was limited. However, the effectiveness of foam rolling is still in question in pre- and post rolling. It must be noted that in the available studies, different foam rolling intervention protocols were combined with different types of fatigue-inducing exercises and outcome measures, making it difficult to compare the results (Poppendieck et al., 2016).

Sources:

  1. Healey, K. C., Hatfield, D. L., Blanpied, P., Dorfman, L. R., and Riebe, D. (2014). The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 28, 61–68.
  2. Jones, A., Brown, L. E., Coburn, J. W., and Noffal, G. J. (2015). Effects of foam rolling on vertical jump performance. Int. J. Kinesiol. Sport. Sci.3, 38–42. 
  3. Monteiro, E. R., Costa, P. B., Corrêa Neto, V. G., Hoogenboom, B. J., Steele, J., and Silva Novaes, J. D. (2019a). Posterior thigh foam rolling increases knee extension fatigue and passive shoulder range-of-motion. J. Strength Cond. Res. 33, 987–994. 
  4. Poppendieck, W., Wegmann, M., Ferrauti, A., Kellmann, M., Pfeiffer, M., and Meyer, T. (2016). Massage and performance recovery: a meta-analytical review. Sport. Med. 46, 183–204.
  5. Pearcey, G. E., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), 5-13.
  6. Wiewelhove, T., Döweling, A., Schneider, C., Hottenrott, L., Meyer, T., Kellmann, M., … & Ferrauti, A. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 376.

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