5 Benefits of Foam Rolling to Help You Train & Recover Like a Pro

5 Benefits of Foam Rolling to Help You Train & Recover Like a Pro

Written by Nic Bartolotta

Walk into any NBA or NFL locker room, athletic training room, or even your local gym, and you’ll see people using foam rollers. You’ve probably even tried it yourself. And though it’s an important part of athletic performance, most people don’t even know why. 

Foam rolling is one of the most effective muscle recovery methods available, offering a lower-cost alternative to sports therapy massages and physical therapy in some cases. When used properly, foam rollers yield benefits like reduced muscle soreness, shorter recovery times, fewer injuries, and more flexibility. Not to mention, it can reduce tension caused by lingering injuries or chronic tightness. 

But before we explore all of the benefits of foam rolling, let’s break down exactly how it works

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which involves applying pressure to certain muscles and connective tissues with a foam roller. The benefits of foam rolling are largely disputed, but most medical professionals agree that it releases tension, reduces soreness, and promotes muscle recovery. 

woman foam rolling her arms after a workout

Foam rolling mimics a deep tissue massage, one usually performed by a licensed therapist or sports massage therapist. Similar results can be achieved with muscle roller sticks & massage balls. But instead of spending time & money on an expensive massage, you can reap the benefits by yourself while at home, in the gym, and even on the road. 

How does foam rolling work?

Most people have a basic understanding of how the muscular and skeletal systems of the human body work. Your brain sends a signal to the relevant muscles to contract, which pulls the bone along with it. 

Take your arm for example. When you want to do a bicep curl, your bicep muscle contracts to bend your forearm & wrist up towards your shoulder. To relax the muscle, you engage your triceps to lower your arm and the weight back down towards your waist.

This process is the same for every muscle & body movement. From walking to standing up and even brushing your teeth, this is how your muscles work. And for most daily movements, you don't even have to think about it - your muscle memory automatically does it for you.  

This is a pretty simple process at its core. But it wouldn't be without fascia, the connective tissue that encases your muscles, bones, tendons, cartilage, nerves and blood vessels. It also shapes your muscles and helps your body move by connecting muscles to tendons & bones.

When your muscles are healthy and limber, the fascial tissue glides alongside your muscle, enabling you to move without limitation. But when you're muscles are injured, sore, or tight, adhesions form on the muscle, preventing the fascia and muscle from functioning properly. 

These adhesions limit your ability to stretch, contract, and engage that muscle. If you’ve ever been sore after a workout or experienced lingering pain after a muscle cramp, that discomfort was caused by these adhesions, also known as trigger points. 

But instead of waiting for the pain & tightness to subside, you can use a foam roller to heal the pain. This self-massage technique does more than just break up muscle adhesions. It helps you manage pain, soreness, and tension, and even recover from injuries & intense workouts like a pro.

5 benefits of foam rolling that will help you train harder and live healthier

From daily runs & gym sessions to season-ending injuries, foam rolling offers a number of benefits that can't be replicated in a training room or by stretching.

1. Reduce muscle soreness

Professional athletes, gym goers, and weekend warriors know the feeling of muscle soreness all too well. A day or two after intense physical activity, your quads and hamstrings start to tighten up, making it difficult to walk or even sit down. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it’s your body’s natural inflammatory response.

In a perfect world, you could exercise as hard as you want and your body would recover instantly. But that’s not how muscle growth works; they must first be broken down before they recover and eventually grow. 

man foam rolling his calves to recover after a run

One of the primary benefits of foam rolling is that it can significantly improve your muscle recovery, thereby reducing the duration and severity of DOMS. By applying pressure to release trigger points, foam rolling promotes blood flow and reduces tension in the sore area, aiding the body’s healing abilities. 

2. Shorten recovery times between workouts

Muscle soreness can last for days. But you don’t have days. You have 24 hours, maybe less, before your next run, workout, or game. And if your muscles are still recovering from the previous day, you won’t be able to perform at a high level. 

Not only does it aid muscle recovery, but it helps it occur at a faster rate. This means you can recover after long, intense exercise and still make it to the gym the next day for round 2. 

Foam rolling shortens recovery times by reducing post-exercise fatigue, soreness, and stiffness. For best results, you should foam roll both before and after each workout. A pre-roll session before the gym or practice will prepare your body for dynamic movements, reduce the likelihood of injury, and improve your physical performance. Afterwards, treat your muscles to an uncomfortable foam rolling session to kickstart the recovery process, prevent cramps, and obviously, shorten your recovery time. 

3. Increase flexibility & range of motion (ROM)

It’s no secret that tight muscles are more prone to injury than limber muscles. So if you struggle with chronic tightness from poor posture, stress, or over-training, foam rolling is the solution you’ve been looking for. 

We’ve covered that foam rolling helps break down myofascial adhesions, helping to reduce soreness and restore a full ROM. But studies show that a combination of foam rolling and static stretching can actually increase ROM beyond the baseline. So “foam rolling won’t just help you touch your toes again; it will help lengthen your muscles even further so that you can put your entire palm on the floor” says Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP.

As you improve your muscle and joint flexibility over time, you’ll likely experience added benefits like:

  • Fewer injuries
  • Better posture and balance
  • Greater strength, speed, and explosiveness
  • Improved physical performance.

And as long as you continue to foam roll and stretch as needed, these added benefits will compound on each other. 

4. Treat & manage injuries or other chronic conditions

Whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a recreational athlete, injuries happen to everyone. And though they may keep you away from the game for a while, foam rolling can help you treat and manage injuries so that you can get back out there. 

Foam rolling stimulates blood flow to the target muscles, resulting in benefits like: 

  • The release of endorphins, natural pain-relieving chemicals produced by the body
  • Reduced swelling and inflammation
  • Increased flow of healing nutrients to the damaged joint, muscle, and/or tissue
  • The prevention of adhesions and scar tissue buildup, helping to maintain flexibility ROM even as you recover
  • The treatment of chronic, seemingly unavoidable injuries like runner’s knee, tennis elbow, and shin splints

So instead of “taking it easy” for the next few weeks, you can accelerate your recovery time and treat painful injuries on every part of your body. 

benefits of foam rolling with the Rolflex

If you’re using it to treat injuries, always avoid rolling directly over injured muscles, tendons, and joints – this will worsen your injury. Instead, foam roll the area above, below, and opposite the problem area. This will alleviate tension in the surrounding area, allowing the inflamed area to relax and heal. 

5. Reduce your risk of injury

Foam rolling helps reduce muscle soreness, increase muscle & joint flexibility, and enhances muscle activation. All of these things help prevent injuries. 

Foam rolling before a game won’t keep you from getting hurt; sometimes accidents happen. But a consistent foam rolling routine will increase the strength and elasticity of your muscles, reducing your risk of injury. You’ll have the benefit of staying healthy while others complain of pulled muscles, strains, and cramps. 

The benefits of foam rolling are impossible to ignore, whether you're a professional athlete or general fitness enthusiast. These deep tissue therapy tools prevent injuries, shorten recovery times, and improve performance. 

And if you want to train, play, and recover like the best athletes in the world, you need to add foam rolling to your daily fitness routine.

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