They just appeared at the gym one day: cylindrical foam rollers.
Now everyone is using them rather than traditional stretching exercises.
Do they really make a difference in your workout?
While a low-tech tool, foam rollers are very effective at optimizing range of motion as part of exercise warm-up. “Foam rolling is great, although it can hurt like heck,” says Duane C. Button, an assistant professor of exercise science at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.
Benefit #1 – Increased Range of Motion
Dr. Button and colleague David Behm conducted experiments with eleven volunteers who used a foam roller by rolling back and forth over their quadriceps for two one-minute trials. The muscles worked showed an immediate significant increase in knee range of motion. In addition, those who used the rollers found their ability to jump and additional exercise weren’t affected. Stretching, on the other hand, dulls the capacity for muscles to exert force.
What the foam rollers do that stretching doesn’t is provide self-myofascial release.
Benefit #2 – Improved Recovery Rate
Foam rollers are useful after a workout too. Other studies at Dr. Button’s laboratory showed that even after a “devastating workout” of several sets of squats, those who rolled their leg muscles on the foam cylinders were much less sore after exercising. They were also able to jump and execute other physical tasks more proficiently 72 hours later better than the volunteers that didn’t use the rollers.
Disadvantage – It Hurts a Lot
This simple but effective device isn’t like a pillow, though. The foam is very firm and as Dr. Button points out, while you roll on it, “you’re pressing as much as half of your body weight” onto the affected muscles. Depending on the status of the muscle, it can be very painful.
If it hurts too much, he suggests using a roller massager which is a hand-held tool like a rolling pin for working your muscles. These are “more tolerable for many people, because you supply only as much pressure as you want,” he said. The impact on muscle recovery and range of motion in the joints is not as significant as the large foam rollers but there is a definite noticeable effect. For many people, it just feels good.
Here’s an Interesting Infographic on How to Foam Roll: