Using Foam Rollers during your Workout might not be as Effective as you think
You’ve probably used foam rollers before, but do you know if they work?
It’s virtually impossible to go to the gym without having to step over people doing floor work with tubes and foam rollers. It’s the latest trend in the catwalk that is the gym. Foam rollers are used across various periods in a workout, including vital warm-ups and cool-downs, though it seems that most people don’t know what foam rollers are used for, and those that do, can’t guarantee if they work.
So, in the pursuit of transparency, let’s explore whether or not there are any benefits to using foam rollers at the gym.
What are foam rollers?
If you’re not into the gym or haven’t come across foam rollers yet, these are essentially foam tubes that are used to work specific muscle areas very lightly to stretch the muscles pre and post-workout. Generally speaking, the idea is that foam rollers reduce your risk of overstretching as a result of working out, but still stimulate the muscles enough to actually allow you to recover or warm-up for your workout.
It’s imperative to stretch before and after a workout, however when stretching, it is very easy to over-stretch, which in turn is just as bad for your muscles as not stretching at all. By using foam rollers, one can ‘stretch’ your muscles without over-exerting the muscles, meaning you can be flexible, without actually applying needless pressure to the muscles. Therefore, foam rollers sound like the perfect workout tool, right?
Using foam rollers allows you to complete your pre and post-workout routine with ease, in a more efficient time than you would be carrying out conventional stretches.
How did this all come about?
Foam rollers have been used in professional athletic sport for years – it’s not a new thing. Initially designed by Moshe Feldenkrais in the, an Israeli engineer and black belt in Judo in the 1950’s, rollers have been used for decades to help sportspersons with their conditioning.
Now, thanks to the accessibility of foam rollers and of course, the gym revolution, more and more people are taking to these foam rollers to help them improve their conditioning, recovery, flexibility and general fitness.
What’s the problem?
According to The Independent, many therapists and sports scientists are now starting to doubt how effective foam rolling is. For a very long time it has been assumed that these devices work by releasing tension in the muscles, however, many experts now believe that foam rolling brings no benefit to the muscles, because large amounts of pressure are still being applied to them, like with conventional stretching. Research suggests that actually, foam rolling might be impacting the nervous system instead.
“The findings on using rolling to avoid muscle soreness provide additional evidence here. We know that this pain relief is not related to “warming” the muscles, while there is only limited evidence that foam rolling increases blood flow. Were either of these the case, it would suggest the benefit is coming from stimulating soft tissue in the area in question. But if we rule both of these out it suggests there must be a more global or neurological response taking place. All the research so far has looked at the immediate and short-term effects of foam rolling. Our understanding of the longer-term effects remains cloudy.”
The easiest way to understand this is that foam rolling seems to help your muscles on a short-term basis, it allows them to stretch out (as they would during a regular stretch) and thus, blood flow is encouraged to allow for an efficient recovery. What also happens is that the user also gets a big hit of pain relief thanks to the way foam rollers impact the nervous system, though this relief is only temporary, meaning yes, foam rollers have a good impact on the short term, but in the long term, there’s absolutely no benefit to the user, at all.
“So while we know that foam rolling both before and after taking exercise can complement your training programme, we can’t say for sure whether these benefits continue into the future. And while it has previously been shown that foam rolling has no negative effect on athletic performance in the short term, we still can’t say for certain that there are no detrimental long-term effects.”
Should I be using foam rollers?
The advice isn’t to stop using foam rollers, but instead, the advice is to use foam rollers combined with traditional stretching. Stretching is proven to help speed up the recovery of your muscles and likewise, stretching before a workout is critical in ensuring you don’t damage your muscles while working out.
By combining an exercise with both foam rollers and traditional stretches, you are going to give your muscles the absolute best chance of recovering and strengthening. Of course, you have to be very careful not to overdo it as you could seriously harm yourself. If you’re ever unsure, speak to an instructor at your local gym as they will be able to offer professional advice on what will work for you.
More research needs to be done in this field to work out how foam rolling will impact our bodies in the future. As a result of this, we expect further exploration into foam rolling on a scientific and an academic level to follow this research.