Written by Nic Bartolotta
Foam rollers are an effective way to promote muscle recovery and prevent soreness, but there’s a common debate about whether you should use them before or after a workout. Whether you’re new to fitness or a seasoned pro, you should understand the benefits of foam rolling before and after and how to maximize results with the self-massage tool.
Foam rolling before vs. after workout: does it matter?
Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique. Myofascia, or fascia, is a tissue that surrounds your muscles and bones. Ideally, this tissue should be relaxed, soft, and stretchy. But it can become tight if your muscles are injured, inactive, or fatigued.
“Self-myofascial release is an excellent way to promote post-workout recovery, but many people forget that it also increases your joint range of motion,” says Gary Vitti, BS, MS, ATC, former athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Lakers. “If your joints can’t move through their full range of motion, your athletic performance will suffer, which is why it’s just as important to foam roll before your workout as it is afterward.”
It’s no secret that proper lifting form is essential. Improper form while working out increases your risk of injury. Using a foam roller before working out, also known as pre-rolling, ensures that you can safely perform all the movements in your training program.
Because muscle breakdown is necessary for growth, you must help them heal to prevent soreness and enhance your athletic performance. Muscle rollers target and release trigger points, or knots, causing pain and tightness throughout the body. According to the Journal of Athletic Training, using a muscle roller after working out is an effective way to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
For best results, you should foam roll before and after your workout to reduce soreness, prevent injuries, and train more effectively. Here’s why:
Roll out before training
How it works
Blood circulation is essential to your overall health, well-being, and athletic performance. Blood carries oxygen throughout your body, and when it reaches your muscle tissues, the oxygen fuels their performance. Self-myofascial release via foam rolling has been shown to improve arterial blood flow.
No matter how much effort you put into recovery, you may experience minor muscle soreness the following day. But foam rolling your muscles and fascia before working out helps alleviate any lingering soreness from the previous training session, increasing your performance and reducing the likelihood of injury.
There is a psychological element as well. Simply put, self-myofascial release makes your body feel better. When you feel better, you’ll stay engaged throughout the workout, enabling you to train harder, stronger, and faster.
Finally, the range of motion benefits associated with pre-rolling are as crucial for health and safety as they are for performance. Pre-rolling has been shown to improve hip, knee, shoulder, and ankle range of motion, drastically enhancing your workouts.
Prepares your body for working out: Reducing muscle soreness, improving blood flow, and increasing your range of motion will ensure your body is ready for intense physical activity.
Reduces the likelihood of injuries: Treating muscle soreness before exercising will reduce the risk of injury. Still, if the pain worsens, it’s a good idea to take a day off before working out again. You can still use your foam roller during your downtime to speed up recovery.
- Improves performance: Lingering soreness and limited motion will reduce the effectiveness of your exercise routine, preventing you from reaching your goals. Foam rolling before your workout will ensure your body doesn’t hold you back.
How to do it
It’s best to use your foam roller before your main warmup, including any dynamic stretches or sport-specific movements. You can use it on your hamstrings, calves, and other muscle groups you plan to target during your workout. Self-myofascial release breaks up knots and tightness in your muscles and fascia, allowing your muscles to stretch and contract at full capacity.
You’ll want to roll the tool over your muscles for about two to three minutes. You can take a break after each minute or continue rolling if you feel comfortable doing so. If your muscles are sore from the previous day’s workout, you may notice some discomfort; this means you’re releasing the trigger point.
Once you’ve used your roller for at least two minutes, you can begin your dynamic warmup.
Cool down after exercise
How it works
Foam rolling after a workout, also known as post-rolling, results in various physiological responses that reduce muscle fatigue and speed up recovery. It works to increase your blood flow, speeding up the delivery of nutrients to your muscles while increasing tissue elasticity.
Self-myofascial release with a muscle roller also decreases the amount of creatine kinase in your bloodstream. Creatine kinase is an enzyme that supplies the energy required for muscle contraction but too much of it can result in muscle fatigue during longer workout sessions.
According to Dan Dobrowolski DAT, LAT, ATC, OTC, "current research supports that rolling post-activity promotes faster recovery in activities such as sprinting and strength performance than passive recovery." Especially after a workout, "foam rolling and myofascial release has also been shown to be effective in limiting muscle soreness."
It decreases muscular inhibition which can be caused by fatigue, soreness, swelling, and other factors. Dobrowolski says that "rolling can, conceptually, aid in the restoration of soft tissue and increase of central factors from the central nervous system."
Foam rolling after a workout also helps prevent muscle adhesions. These adhesions occur when the collagen fibers in your tissue adhere to adjacent tissues. Using a deep tissue roller on your muscles helps break down these fibers before they adhere.
Counteracts delayed-onset muscle soreness: The pain you experience in the days after exercise is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This type of soreness differs from acute muscle soreness, which is the mildly-painful sensation felt during exercise. Foam rolling is a proven way to counteract the effects of DOMS, meaning you won’t have to deal with 2-3 days of discomfort.
Shortens recovery time: Post-rolling is similar to a post-workout massage. It reduces muscle tenderness and breaks up muscle adhesions, speeding up recovery.
- Prevents muscle cramps: Cramps are involuntary contractions of your muscles that prevent them from relaxing. Post-rolling allows you to massage the fatigued muscle tissue to avoid potential cramps and spasms.
How to do it
You’ll want to use your foam roller after your cooldown and before any static stretching. Like your pre-roll routine, this will loosen your muscles, reducing the likelihood of cramps and soreness while you recover.
It’s best to use your roller for around two to three minutes, targeting the muscle groups you trained during your workout and anywhere else you feel soreness or stiffness.
Do I need to foam roll at all?
Foam rolling before and after working out is essential to injury prevention, soreness reduction, and your overall physical health. Whether you’re an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or someone who has to stay on their feet and lift heavy objects at work, these handy tools are an excellent way to ensure you’re operating at 100%. They can also help you manage chronic injuries like shin splints and runner’s knee.
Foam rolling is one of the easiest ways to break up muscle adhesions. There are undoubtedly other ways to reduce muscle stiffness, but most work best when combined with foam rolling.
One study suggests cold-water immersion effectively reduces muscle fatigue and soreness. The same study found that a post-exercise massage can speed up post-workout recovery. Muscle rollers mimic deep tissue massages and let you target large areas of your body simultaneously, making them an ideal post-workout recovery tool to combine with cold-water immersion.
Frequently asked questions
Should you warm up before foam rolling?
No, it’s best to foam roll before your dynamic warmups or training sets. You can foam roll cold muscles, but it’s important to ease into it while gradually increasing the pressure. If you apply too much pressure when you first begin rolling, you may aggravate your muscle.
Is it okay to roll every day?
Yes, foam rolling is entirely safe, and you can do it daily. Like stretching, using your roller every day will keep your muscles from getting sore and stiff, but too much foam rolling can be bad. You shouldn’t roll the same muscle for longer than three minutes at a time, as this can cause bruising and make your soreness worse.
Is it good to foam roll before lifting?
Yes, foam rolling before lifting improves your range of motion, making it easier to use the correct form while lifting. Additionally, the enhanced range of motion will enable you to utilize all your strength.