Benefits of Foam Rolling (With The Science To Back It!)

Before starting a new exercise regimen, people will often ask, “Does it actually work?”  When it comes to foam rolling – a form of self myofascial release – the answer is unequivocally yes!  The benefits of foam rolling are many, they are real, and they are backed by medical studies.  This isn’t some hyped up fad; this actually works, and we’re going to show you the studies that prove it.

Foam Rolling Reduces Muscle Soreness After Exercise

recover from squats by foam rolling quads
Subjects recovered from squats by foam rolling their quads.

One of the more well-known claimed benefits of foam rolling is that it reduces muscle soreness after an intense workout.  In early 2015, a group of researchers at the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation set out to see if there was any truth to this claim.  They studied a group of college-aged male athletes, and had them do two weightlifting workouts set 4-weeks apart.  The workout consisted of back squats: 10 sets of 10 repetitions each, doing 60% of the subject’s one rep max.  The control group did no foam rolling post workout, while the test group foam rolled their quads for 20 minutes immediately following the workout, as well as 24-hours and 48-hours later.  The results of the study: the athletes that used the foam roller following their workout experienced significantly decreased muscle soreness.  The study went on to state this key point:

Self-massage through foam rolling could benefit athletes seeking a recovery modality that is relatively affordable, easy to perform, and time efficient and that enhances muscle recovery.

The benefits of foam rolling on muscle soreness has, in fact, been tested and confirmed in a number of other studies.  A 2014 study used the same squatting tests as the aforementioned study, with a test group foam rolling after exercising, but also introduced a vertical jump test conducted immediately following the exercise, as well as 24- and 48-hours later.  This study showed that the athletes who foam rolled also showed significant improvements in the vertical jump test conducted 48-hours after the exercise.

BENEFITS OF FOAM ROLLING: Increased JOINT RANGE OF MOTION

foam rolling benefits the joint range of motion
Test subjects who performed foam rolling on their quadriceps exhibited increased knee joint range of motion

A 2013 article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published the results of a study on the effects of foam rolling.  The study, led by a team from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, tested the effects of foam rolling on knee joint range of motion.  The study participants were 11 healthy males, who all exercises regularly.  Study participants did two rounds of one minute each, foam rolling their quads.  The results:  two minutes after the foam rolling, knee joint range of motion was increased by 10°; after ten minutes, the knee joint range of motion had decreased slightly, but still an overall increase of 8°.

A 2010 study conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) showed that the range of motion in every major joint of the body will decrease with age.  This decreased range of motion can make everyday tasks – such as typing on a keyboard – painful, stiff, and irritating.  Furthermore, decreased range of motion can lead to injury.  However, foam rolling not only increases range of motion, but compared to static stretching prior to a workout, will actually result in increased muscle force, as shown by a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.  To quote this study:

The use of a roller massage prior to an activity that relies on maximum strength and power may be advantageous.

Foam Rolling decreases Blood Pressure

Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, this one conducted by Japanese exercise physiologists, tested the effects of foam rolling on arterial stiffness and vascular endothelial function.  The tests followed ten healthy young adults, and utilizing randomized control crossover testing methodology, had the subjects foam roll the adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, IT bands, and trapezius.  The results of this test concluded that foam rolling reduced arterial stiffness and improved vascular endothelial function.

benefits of foam rolling to fight agingIncreased arterial stiffness, according to the American Heart Association, is considered a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.  When the arterial walls are stiffer, the heart must work harder by increasing blood pressure.  By decreasing arterial stiffness, foam rolling will increase the blood flow and circulation, while lowering your overall blood pressure.

Vascular endothelial dsynfunction is another contributor to cardiovascular disease, which is cited as being the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in modern societies.  The vascular endothelium is a single layer of cells that line blood vessels, and plays a key role in regulating the health and function of the arteries.  As we age, these vascular endothelium change, and cease to function as they once did, leading to cardiovascular disease.  However, according to the 2014 Japanese study, foam rolling actually improved vascular endothelial function, and could thus be considered and important tool in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, especially in aging adults.

Foam rolling to fight aging?

Given the evidence from the above two studies, could we not conclude that one of the benefits of foam rolling is that it can fight aging?  It certainly seems so to me.  Explore the benefits of foam rolling for yourself and find out.  If you’ve never used a foam roller before, visit our foam roller guide to help pick your first roller, then head over to our list of foam roller exercises with instructional videos, to ensure an injury-free and rewarding experience.

foam rolling to get rid of cellulite

Another one of the lesser known benefits of foam rolling is that it can help get rid of cellulite!  When you foam roll, the pressure from the foam roller will help to break up the interwoven fat fibers under the skin, and thereby help to reduce and get rid of cellulite.  Sound too good to be true?  Well it’s not.  A 1998 study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal found that using a foam roller reduced the cellulite in all of the female test subjects.  If you’re interested in more information, we have an entire article dedicated to getting rid of cellulite with foam rolling, and even show you which exercises to do.

This technique [foam rolling] provided safe yet modest improvement in the appearance of cellulite.

Summary

At this point, the evidence supporting the benefits of foam rolling is really pretty incontrovertible.  Foam rolling is inexpensive, easy to do at home in your spare time, and it really works.  If you haven’t started rolling yet, that’s ok.  Check out our foam roller guide before you make your first roller purchase, then head over to our comprehensive list of foam rolling exercises to get you started on the right track.

Studies Cited

Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller Massager Improves Range of Motion of Plantar Flexor Muscles Without Subsequent Decreases in Force Parameters. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy,9(1), 92–102. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924613/

MacDonald, G., Button, D., Drinkwater, E., & Behm, D. (2014). Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool After an Intense Bout of Physical Activity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 46(1), 131-142. http://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db

MacDonald, G., Penney, M., Mullaley, M., Cuconato, A., Drake, C., Behm, D., & Button, D. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821. http://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2bc1

McDaniel, D., Lord, J., Ash, K., Newman, J., & Zukowski, M. Body Contouring: a Preliminary Report on the Use of the Silhouette Device for Treating Cellulite. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 18(3), 177-182. http://doi.org/10.1016/S1090-820X(98)70037-8

Okamoto, T., Masuhara, M., & Ikuta, K. (2013). Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 69-73. http://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2bc1

Pearcey, G., Bradbury-Squires, D., Kawamoto, J., Drinkwater, E., Behm, D., & Button, D. (2015). Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(1), 5–13. http://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01

Seals, D., Jablonski, K., & Donato, A. (2011). Aging and Vascular Endothelial Function in Humans. Clinical Science, 120(9), 357–375. http://doi.org/10.1042/CS20100476