Foam rolling is a simple, effective tool to improve performance and maximize your workout. Rolling is a way for us to give ourselves the type of massage that releases kinks in our fascia – a fibrous sheet of tissue that wraps our muscles and holds all of our internal workings together.
The kinks in these sheets of tissue are also more commonly referred to as “knots,” which we’re sure you’ve had experience in because they’re so easy to get all over your body. Any combination of movement and/or lack of thereof will eventually create these “myofascial adhesions” that impair our bodies’ ability to work smoothly.
When one muscle or muscle group has kinks, it creates a chain reaction throughout the body in which every piece struggles to function as one cohesive unit. Remember, our bodies work like big machines; if one screw, nut, or bolt is off, the whole machine will feel it.
So now you want to foam roll, and it’s time to ask yourself, “is it better to use a foam roller before or after a workout?” And the answer is pretty straightforward: you should definitely foam roll before, and you could consider foam rolling after.
Here’s what’ll happen if you foam roll before your workout:
Like we said, rolling out your tight muscles warms them up and makes them more pliable. When your sore muscles are more pliable and flexible, your range of motion is bound to improve. This wider range of motion allows you to safely push the limits of your muscles. The farther they stretch (healthily), the more opportunity to flex and grow.
That pliability and flexibility will actually protect you during your workout! Myofascial adhesions function as awful little trigger points for injury. If you work through the knots beforehand, they’re far less likely to cause any problems.
Based on studies across the kinesiology field, foam rolling has been found to increase maximal voluntary contraction (maximal voluntary contraction is a measurement of muscle strength).
This 3-day study concluded that:
“Following [foam rolling], [maximal voluntary contraction] was elevated compared to rest and [surface electromyography amplitude] was transiently reduced during a submaximal task. Excitation efficiency of the involved muscles may have been enhanced by [foam rolling], which protected against the decline in [maximal voluntary contraction] which was observed with rest.”
When you engage in foam rolling exercises, your muscles are basically better at exerting strength and aren’t fatigued as easily!
One of the most evident (and awesome) things about foam rolling is that it reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The crazy thing is that there is no scientific consensus on how exactly it does that. It could be the heat from the friction of rolling your muscles, it could be a neurological process, and it may have something to do with that increased flexibility. Regardless, we know that it supports a body in muscle recovery.
Foam rolling post-workout definitely doesn’t have quite the impact of rolling before one.
If you’re already experiencing muscle soreness, giving yourself a massage could definitely help those muscles stretch, release, and relax. However, in terms of the actual functioning and recovery of the muscles, things get a little less black-and-white.
According to this study from the Journal of Athletic Training,
“It is unclear whether post-exercise massage is beneficial for muscular function.”
So while foam rolling after a workout certainly doesn’t have all the positive effects of doing so beforehand, that isn’t to say it’s not worth your time. And since your body’s daily work isn’t confined to the gym, we also recommend rolling when you wake up and before bed!
Sleeping means we don’t use our muscles very much for 5-10 hours at a time – it’s no wonder we wake up so stiff. Foam rolling straight out of bed is an excellent way to get some heat and flexibility into those muscles. While we can’t find any studies that test the effects of foam rolling on sitting at your desk all day, it’s probably safe to say that this’ll help your muscles from tightening up throughout the day at least a little bit.
When it comes to winding down for bed, we think foam rolling also has a place in any evening routine. Making your muscles a little more pliable before you lie down will help you relax and really sink into your mattress.
At the end (and beginning) of the day, self-massage via foam rolling is an excellent way to maintain that flexibility in your muscles, perform daily functions with less pain. It serves as a fantastic form of self-care. We have equipment with foam rolling at all of our locations. Come on in and give it a try!
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