Does foam rolling help strength training?

Does foam rolling help strength training?

There’s different opinions on if foam rolling is or isn’t an effective tool to use when it comes to functional training. Is it good for recovery, does it help with DOMs or should we be using it as part of our warm-up routine? 

After researching different sources, speaking to coaches and physios, we’re aiming to dispel some myths, explain the benefits, and tell you how you could incorporate foam rolling into your training routine. 

What is foam rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage. The targeted muscles are rolled and compressed - it’s a form of “self-myofascial release”. A fancy way of saying it helps with muscle pain. The foam roller will apply direct pressure to the site of the trigger point or knot, causing it to breakdown and remodel in a similar way to a sports massage. 

The benefits of foam rolling

Foam rolling helps mobilise the fascia - the connective tissue that covers all of our muscles. This makes the fascia more supple and will be key in unlocking more pain-free movement. 

  • Regular foam rolling can increase the range of movement within muscles, without compromising the strength of those muscles. This is why some athletes like to foam roll as part of their warm-up. 
  • Foam rolling causes pressure changes in the muscle tissues which can help improve the transfer of water and nutrients through the muscles. This can be especially beneficial pre-training to help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
  • If you’ve been fairly immobile during the day, eg sitting at a desk, foam rolling can help switch on inactive muscles. This will help avoid bad movement patterns and compensating for muscles that may have “switched off”. 

When to foam roll

There is plenty of research on the benefits of foam rolling before you train. It may reduce muscle stiffness, increase range of motion before training, and potentially optimise your body for recovery.

A light general warm-up should be done before foam rolling. Foam rolling on ‘cold muscles’ could lead to injury. 

Where to foam roll

Not all muscles need to be foam rolled equally. Having a level of body literacy - being able to read your bodies cues - will help you identify areas to foam roll:

  • Use your fingers to feel for trigger points
  • Use the foam roller to find areas of tenderness 
  • Previous injury areas 
  • Movement screens can identify areas of tightness
  • Target muscles groups you will use in your training session

How to foam roll

A 2020 review found the optimum time to achieve the benefits of foam rolling is between 90 to 120 seconds. Most trainers recommend a minimum of 30 seconds per side.

Lie on the roller so that it is between the target muscle/area and the ground - then roll up and down the target muscle/area starting with mild pressure and gradually applying more pressure. Go where your body needs it - seek out trigger points or areas of tightness.  

For bigger muscles, such as the quadriceps, you may need to move inside and outside to ensure that the entire muscle is treated.

If any trigger points are found - look out for tenderness or pain - roll firmly on that spot for 30-60 seconds, or until the tension and pain subsides. It is normal for the pain to ease gradually, although in particularly sensitive areas, it may take a few sessions.

If an area is too painful to roll directly, pressure can be reduced by adjusting the body position, or using your arms or legs for more support. In the case of very tender areas, only roll on the surrounding areas and gradually introduce the more painful areas over a few sessions.