The Truth About Foam Rollers

Posted: February 14, 2011 in GENERAL, WORKOUTS & CHALLENGES

There’s an ugly little rumor going around gyms that foam rollers are just for massage or just for us girls.  I think the rumor got started because most people don’t know the science behind foam rolling.  Honestly, I used a foam roller for years and never knew why it worked until I started studying for my CPT.  To clear things up, I thought I would try to explain something scientific.  Note the word “try.”  I’m just learning the scientific principles behind the things I’ve done for years and it’s a whole new language.  So, I hope I can make this make sense for you folks. Here we go.

The process of using a foam roller is actually a form of self-myofascial release (SMR).  To understand the point of foam rolling you first have to understand what SMR is.  However, before we can discuss SMR, you have to know what fascia is.  Fascia is a sheath that interconnects throughout all cells of the body and surrounds muscles, bones, and joints which as a results gives our body structural integrity and strength.  Over time, the fascia builds up knots, trigger points and loses its flexibility for a variety of reasons.  This can lead to pain, reduced flexibility and decreased athletic performance.

Two basic neural receptors – muscle spindles and golgi tendo organs (GTOs) – are found in muscle tissue.  Stimulation of the GTOs past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity, and decreases muscular tension.  This is known as autogenic inhibition.  This process occurs when SMR is used to apply tension to the muscle to help it relax and improve function.  This is what you are actually doing when foam rolling.

It is also important to learn the proper technique for foam rolling.  You don’t want to simply roll quickly back and forth as I see so many people do.  Instead, roll at a slow pace and stop and bear down on any tender spots (“trigger points”). Hold on the spot for about 20-30 seconds or until the pain starts to diminish. SMR does not work over night.  It takes time and patience to restore your body back to normal.  You will notice that over time these trigger points will diminish are you will begin to feel better.  You may want to try using the foam roller before and after physical activity to reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery.  Most gyms have foam rollers now but if not, you can actually purchase your own for around $20.

Here is some more great information and demonstrations of the foam roller in use.  So, that’s it for me for now. I hope that this has help you to see (if you didn’t already know) that foam rollers aren’t just for massage and that they are great for both men and women.

  1. Simon K says:

    Thanks a much appreciated and needed insight, mine arrived today and I am getting started strait away

  2. Tim Walker says:

    Raise your hand if you’re addicted to foam rolling.

    *raises hand*

  3. George C says:

    Thanks for the scientific breakdown!

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