What is foam rolling?


Just joking! Foam rolling is just a way of getting a self-massage. It can be done with a stick, a pizza dough roller, a cricket ball, spikey ball, hockey ball, football and of course the millions of versions of foam rollers… which I’ll get onto later.

Foam rolling has risen in popularity due to it being a fast and effective self-treatment tool. You quite simply put the ‘tool’ on the desired area and go nuts for 30-sec-2-minutes until you feel like everything has become easier.

How do I do it?

  • Place the ‘tool’ wherever you are feeling sore and roll for anywhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. You should be able to breathe deeply or feel it getting easier.
  • It shouldn’t exceed a 5/10 pain and it should get easier very quickly. If it starts really sore and doesn’t ease up quickly then you shouldn’t be rolling it.
  • Test/Re-test. Don’t just blindly roll. Try a squat, single leg squat or step up first. Then have a bit of a roll on an area and then see if the movements feel better after. If you get no change then use your time more effectively on something else. If it does change then that may be an area for you to work on.

What does foam rolling ‘ACTUALLY’ do?

  1. Decreases post exercise soreness up to 3 days after an exercise bout.
  2. Decreases tenderness to touch.
  3. Small but significant changes in range of motion at the joint.
  4. Small changes in vertical leap post foam rolling.

What we aren’t sure about yet

Can it actually improve performance? An inference could be made that if it improves vertical leap than this may translate to small changes in performance. However, we know that dynamic warm up also afford these benefits.

What it doesn’t do

  1. Increase muscle length. The change in a range of motion that happens after rolling is from short term changes in the nervous system that isn’t permanent. Similarly to stretching, we know that it basically improves your tolerance to stretch but has no mechanical change on a structure.
  2. Change or Lengthen Fascia. I’m sure most of you know that we can’t change fascia by rolling, even if you rolled on a steel bar. The stuff is strong. Stronger than any force a human could put through it. This is an important point but unfortunately, we still hear people suggesting we are ‘lengthening fascia’ and this miseducation can often lead to incorrect beliefs about the human body which, in themselves, take a lot of unwinding.
  3. Destroy Trigger Points; See above. Changes are due to short term effect on the nervous system. Desensitisation and pain tolerance changes.

What about all those fancy vibrating, spikey, steel rods?

Less is more.

We have known this of all massage and manual therapy in last 5-10 years.
Short bouts of light soft tissue work can be just as effective as smashing yourself with a steel rod and causing bruising.

There seemed to be a fad of, ‘how hard is your roller’ or even, ‘I’m bruised from massage’. This is ACTUALLY crazy. You are causing capillary damage doing this that is not required. A light, gentle foam roll will get you a decrease in soreness the next day. There is no need for steel, hard stuff or bruises.

I would say, just test it out. Even if it feels like your roller isn’t hurting you anymore just give it 30secs to 2min on a muscle and jump up and squat. I bet it will be easier and you will feel free in movement and have less pain from your previous workout.

Please, please, please stop bragging, advising and spruiking unnecessarily hard rolling or hard rolling tools.

What iMove recommends for foam rolling

  1. Still favour dynamic warm up before an event.
  2. ‘Normal’ foam roller for the 2 days after exercise.
  3. Use it lightly. Nothing should be more than a 5/10 discomfort and it should rapidly get easier.
  4. 30sec-2min on a selected muscle.
  5. Test/re-test a simple movement pattern after each muscle rolled. Squat or single leg squat is a good test.

If you would like any more performance or recovery tips, feel free to get in touch.
info@imovephysio.com.au or if you would like to make an appointment at one of our physio clinics, click here.