One of the things we have pioneered at SMI is the use of the foam roller for self massage. For over 17 years we have encouraged all of our clients to make foam rolling part of their regular daily stretching routine. Anecdotally, there has been a tremendous amount of positive feedback for the foam roller, but very little research to confirm these benefits until recently.
In March of last year, there was a decent study on foam rolling published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (1). It examined quadriceps strength and knee flexion after 2 – one minute bouts of rolling just the quadriceps muscles. It found that knee flexion increased by 10 degrees post rolling and was still 8 degrees better 10 minutes later. Furthermore, the foam rolling had no impact on quadriceps strength and power output!
What Should You Do?
Clearly more research needs to be done to look at ways to optimize foam rolling and the combination of foam rolling and stretching. In the meantime, we recommend you experiment with a combination of foam rolling and dynamic stretching prior to activity. Find out how your body responds to varying combinations of rolling and dynamic stretching so that you can optimize the approach that works best for you. You should also continue to use the foam roller as part of your post exercise routine as well.
Here are a few resources for foam rolling:
A Guide to the Foam Roller
Foam Roller Techniques
Keep an eye out for the new PHLX method foam rolling system due to come out at the end of 2014.
(1) MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC. “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 March 2013: 812-21.