Athletes have long been looking for tools that can help them release the tension and pressure they can feel in their bodies after a long or intense exercise. In particular, the tissues that connect and support our muscles, the tissues, are a key point of interest. Both foam rollers and lacrosse balls have been designed (or rather, adapted) with self- release in mind. Self- release can improve recovery time, reduce pain, treat inflammation, and help improve your range of motion.
But which is the better tool for the job? Here, we’re going to look at foam rollers vs. lacrosse balls and how they shape up in a range of criteria, from muscle recovery to injury prevention and rehabilitation, as well as general soreness and technique. Hopefully, this way, you can get a good idea of which is best suited to your needs.
What are Foam Rollers?
A foam roller is, basically, a cylindrical fitness tool that is used to roll out the pressure and tension in your muscles and the tissues that connect them. They come in a range of varieties, be they smooth, ridged, with bumps, grooves, or otherwise. They can come in various lengths and diameters, and there are even some differences in shapes, with some being more of a half-round shape than a complete cylinder. The Rolflex is a variant of the traditional foam roller, applying the same purpose but in a compact, more customizable form.
Benefits of Foam Rollers
There are a host of benefits associated with foam rolling; the most immediate is the soothing and reduction of muscle pain that follows intense exercise. A small study of eight men saw decreased delayed-onset muscle soreness after exercise when rolling for 20 minutes as part of their recovery. Another small study highlighted that adolescent athletes found foam rolling amongst the most effective forms of increasing range of motion after an exercise, as well.
There are other reported benefits, as well, such as preventing the chance of injury, helping muscles recover faster, reducing inflammation, and maintaining the correct and appropriate length and form of muscles. All of these can help athletes ensure the right recovery following exercise.
Limitations of Foam Rollers
While foam rolling can be useful, especially for specific issues such as release, that does not mean that it is a one-stop shop for all of your post-workout recovery needs. For instance, you should only be using foam rollers for up to 90 seconds on each muscle group. Any pain after that is not likely to be aided through release, alone.
Overuse or misuse of foam rollers can reduce their effectiveness greatly and, in some cases, may even result in injury. People who experience certain health issues, such as severe osteoporosis, varicose veins, advanced diabetes mellitus, and lymphedema should avoid using foam rollers unless recommended to by a medical professional.
Care should be taken when rolling, too. For instance, you should avoid rolling over any areas with acute pain, as it can exacerbate issues like a torn muscle.
Basics of Lacrosse Balls
People have been using lacrosse balls as recovery tools for years now. This is not a new form of recovery tool but, legitimately, the ball that used to play the game of lacrosse. Recently, more people have been looking at using it as a form of post-exercise release.
While tennis balls are sometimes used for the same purpose, lacrosse balls are harder & generally more effective. As such, pressure can be applied to it for longer without it starting to soften. This can make it more effective for the kind of extended appliance needed for a 20-minute post-workout myocardial release.
Benefits of Lacrosse Balls
The benefits of lacrosse balls as a post-workout aid are, largely speaking, the same that you would expect from a foam roller. The same benefits of improving joint movement and flexibility, improving circulation, and reducing physical stress (and therefore mental stress) while alleviating the soreness and inflammation of exercise are the same across the board.
While the evidence for the effectiveness of foam rollers is scant but existent due to a few small studies, there has been very little research done into the benefits of lacrosse balls at all. The purported usefulness of these balls largely comes from the anecdotal evidence of those who use them. However, there are a lot of athletes who vouch for them, so it’s safe to assume that the benefits mentioned are, in some parts, legit.
Limitations of Lacrosse Balls
As with foam rollers, there are limitations to using lacrosse balls. They have the same drawbacks in terms of how much they should be used, and the types of pain that they cannot help with. Acute muscle pain, rather than general muscle soreness, cannot be helped by a lacrosse ball and any tissue that doesn’t experience release after 90 seconds of application is not likely to benefit from even more attention.
The small size of a lacrosse ball and its round shape can also make it a touch more difficult to control than a foam roller. Foam rollers move in predictable back-and-forth motions whereas a little unexpected pressure can cause a lacrosse ball to shoot in a different direction, which can be an unexpected and painful experience if you’re not careful.
Foam Rollers vs. Lacrosse Balls: A Comparative Analysis
One of the key aims of release is to help muscles recover more quickly by applying steady, controller pressure on the tissue, helping them return to their regular flexibility. Both foam rollers and lacrosse balls apply pressure in much the same way here, but the size of and shape can make both more effective at different types.
For larger muscle groups, like the back and the legs, foam rollers can apply pressure more uniformly, while lacrosse balls can make it a little easier to target smaller trigger areas. As such, foam rollers are generally better, but lacrosse balls can make for a good assist when targeting certain areas.
Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation
Muscle tightness significantly increases the risk of injury, which is why you don’t want to let tension linger too long. When used properly, these tools can be used to rehabilitate & prevent injuries. Again, how they differ is largely due to the shape of them. Foam rollers are more effective at sweeping up and down large muscle groups, but might have some difficulty focusing on knots unless they have a specific difference in their shape that helps them reach knots. Again, the Rolflex solves this issue with targeted control.
Lacrosse balls can be more effective at directly targeting knots in the trigger areas. However, their small size can make precise control of lacrosse balls a little more difficult and they have to be used with care, or they can result in new injuries.
Alleviating General Soreness
Both tools are used, in large part, to reduce the soreness of the areas that you have been working out on. Much like with the other benefits, they tend to differ based on where you use them. Foam rollers can be great for broader muscle groups in the thighs and back, but a smaller lacrosse ball can be great for reducing soreness in the arch of the foot, for instance.
However, foam rollers are typically designed with materials that, while able to apply pressure, are also not too forceful. Lacrosse balls, as firm as they are, can be pretty sore to use. Either way, you should expect a little immediate pressure and soreness, but it should be alleviated more quickly with a foam roller.
How to Choose the Right Recovery Tool
Basically, you want to make sure that you’re using each recovery tool when it’s likely to be at its most effective. For most muscle groups, foam rollers are specially designed to provide release while reducing soreness as best as possible. They provide reliable and predictable back-and-forth motion that can work the pressure out of the biggest muscle groups and their myocardial tissue. However, lacrosse balls can be useful for targeting specific areas.
Consider implementing both into your workout recovery routine, and make sure that you’re using them correctly, with good posture, and avoiding overuse that can do more harm than good.
Hopefully, you have a good idea of the effectiveness of foam rollers vs. lacrosse balls. Both aim at roughly the same thing and can bring much the same benefits, but the shape and size of each make them different. Foam rollers are designed to be the most effective tool for release in most cases, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the lacrosse ball. Use both, and you will start to develop a keener understanding of where each tool is best used, ensuring that you can get the most out of your recovery. Keep the tips above in mind to know where to use each.