Why do we foam roll?
So why do we roll around on lacrosse balls, “meat tenderizers,” and foam rollers prior to working out?
Popular theories around here include:
- We enjoy inflicting as much pain and suffering as possible.
If you've ever used the "meat tenderizer" on your calves, you'll know what I mean.
- Laughter is the best medicine, and it’s always fun to watch other people roll around in embarrassing positions.
Must... resist... juvenile... jokes....
As persuasive as these theories may be, there is an ACTUAL reason we foam roll before our warmups.
You see, back in the dark ages of training, we used to do a lot of static stretching right before working out. As it turns out, that was not necessarily the smartest thing in the world, because static stretching can sometimes decrease muscle strength!
In most cases, you don’t want to weaken a muscle that you’re trying to make stronger.
However, most people have some mobility and flexibility problems. So how do we help people improve their mobility, without screwing up their workouts?
As this study shows, foam rolling may be the answer:
…following foam rolling, subjects’ ROM significantly ([rho] < 0.001) increased by 10 and 8% at 2 and 10 minutes, respectively. There was a significant ([rho] < 0.01) negative correlation between subjects’ force and ROM prior to foam rolling, which no longer existed following foam rolling. In conclusion an acute bout of SMR of the quadriceps was an effective treatment to acutely enhance knee joint range of motion without a concomitant deficit in muscle performance.
Okay, here’s the translation.
- ROM, or range of motion, increased significantly within 2 minutes of foam rolling. This means mobility improved.
- The ROM went up without decreasing force production (this means, roughly, that strength levels did not go down).
- Therefore, SMR (self-myofascial release, a fancy term for foam rolling or self-massage) was effective at improving mobility and retaining strength.
You will feel invincible like Laser Kitteh after you foam roll. Okay, maybe not. But you'll feel a little less stiff after sitting all day.
So there you have it. Your trainers are not (just) sadistic and mean. If you want to warm up your joints safely and get a great workout, foam rolling is a great way to start off your training session.
Jae Chung is a fitness coach at The Body You Want Fitness Solutions, a personal training gym in Georgetown, Washington DC. If you’re interested in working with friendly, not-too-sadistic coaches, give us a call at 202-316-1457 to schedule a Rapid Results Strategy Session today!
Check out these previous posts on foam rolling and stretching!