If you are struggling with muscle soreness post workout, or are looking to increase flexibility then you may want to think about adding some foam rolling into your routine.
Foam rolling is often used by regular gym goers and more professional athletes. The big question for sceptics is, does foam rolling work to relieve sore muscles fast?
There is research that shows that using a foam roller can aid flexibility and can reduce soreness, however, there is also research that shows that it is completely ineffective.
If you are considering using foam rolling then I would recommend that you continue reading. We are going to look to see if it will aid your own recovery from exercise, whether there are any specific exercises you should perform, and if there is anything you should avoid when foam rolling.
How Does Foam Rolling Claim to Reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?
It is claimed that after an intense training session, using a foam roller will help to relax your muscles, which will help to increase the blood supply to them, therefore aiding with recovery.
Increasing blood flow to your muscles will also ensure that more nutrients are delivered. These nutrients will aid with protein synthesis and therefore speed up recovery.
There are also claims that using a foam roller can increase flexibility. This is important as the ability to perform exercises using the full range of motion will increase hypertrophy.
Finally, using a foam roller is claimed to help reduce the risk of injury.
Is Foam Rolling Proven to Reduce Muscle Pain & Stiffness?
Foam rolling is classed as an alternative therapy and is often used by osteopaths, having been created by osteopath Andrew Taylor Still.
During intense exercise, your muscles will develop tiny tears in the muscle tissue. Over a few days after the workout, you will encounter DOMS, which is a painful type of fatigue that occurs when the muscles are undergoing the healing process.
When you massage and manipulate the connective tissue (fascia) that covers your muscle you may be able to reduce pain and stiffness. This is called myofascial release.
Essential Reading: The Best Muscle Soreness Recovery Tips
Looking at a meta-analysis of various studies it is unclear whether self-myofascial release is effective or not. With many studies supporting it shown to be of low quality.
Worryingly a few studies stated that myofascial release could deform fascia, however, this was disposed in a later study.
One other way that foam rolling could help reduce pain and stiffness is through trigger point therapy, which is the manipulation of knots in the fascia surrounding your muscles.
Trigger point therapy is often used by physics and personal trainers. It is often used by athletes too.
Again there is not a lot of scientific evidence to back up the claimed benefits, however, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence available.
Best Foam Rolling Exercises For Muscle Pain
While there are plenty of different foam rolling exercises you can perform, here are three that you should perform.
A good quality foam roller is a must-have. Personally, I would buy a larger one, but a smaller one will suffice if space is sparse.
1: Calf Stretch
You can use a foam roller to stretch out your calves.
To do this you should start off by laying on your back with your hands flat on the floor. You should rest your calves on the foam roller.
Next, you should use your arms to lift your body off the floor. You should then roll backwards across your calves, before then returning to the starting position.
Depending on the size of your foam roller, you can either do one leg or two.
2: Hamstring Stretch
The technique used to stretch your hamstrings is similar to the calf stretch, except the foam roller will be placed beneath your hamstrings.
You should roll the foam roller the length of your hamstrings, from your glutes to the back of your knee.
3: Outer Thigh Stretch
With this stretch, you will place the foam roller underneath your hip. You should then roll from your hip down to your knee.
This movement works your IT band and hip flexors, and can be quite painful during the stretch, but may alleviate long term pain.
Dos & Don’ts of Foam Rolling
If you are planning to try foam rolling there are some things that you need to keep in mind:
• You must be consistent – the more often you use it the better the results typically
• Invest in the best foam roller – cheap, low-quality foam rollers will not be able to withstand much pressure. Read reviews before you invest, an expensive option may not be the best option
• Perfect your technique – there are plenty of YouTube videos that can show you the technique needed. You may also want to talk to an expert about what techniques you should be using
• Do not foam roll your neck or lower back – this can be dangerous and offers no real benefit
• You should use the correct amount of pressure – too little pressure won’t offer any benefit, while too much pressure can cause unnecessary pain and potential damage
• Finally, you should avoid using a short range of motion – you should aim to use the foam roller along the length of the muscle.
While the actual scientific community are split about the benefits of foam rolling there is a reason why it is used by many professionals.
If you are looking for a way to ease muscle soreness post workout then what is the harm in giving it a try.