New tools are regularly being introduced in the world of fitness. Many making claims to improve flexibility and range of motion. The foam roller exercises have been around for many years, used by physical therapists in myofascial release and for exercises on an unstable surface to rehabilitate balance, proprioception, and core strength. Physiologically we can explain the increase in range of motion after using the foam roller as a result of stimulation of the golgi tendon organ causing muscles to relax. In terms of physics we see that the direction of force applied easily increases the length of the structure being stretched and shearing forces exerted on the fascia can break adhesions. By stimulating blood flow it aids in circulation and vascular health.
A foam roll consists of a hard foam cylinder, usually about six inches
in diameter and varying in length from 6 to 36 inches long. The foam
should be firm enough that adequate pressure can be applied to the
muscle, yet not so firm that bruising and soft tissue damage will occur.
Fascia is made up of layers of collagen fibres bundled in a parallel
arrangement. Layers, separated by fat cells, are able to slide on each
other. Each layer of fascia has collagen fibres that are oriented in a
different direction. This arrangement increases its strength so that it
can absorb forces exerted on it from different directions. Fascia
transmits forces from muscles and reduces friction between moving
muscles. Fascia also contains some elastic fibres that lend it
elasticity. For more information on fascia
Adhesions can form within and between fascial layers after trauma or periods of inflammation. Trigger points can form within the muscles resulting in pain and tension. Self myofascial release is simply the myofascial release techniques that one can do without aid of a professional. Click here for information on myofascial pain, and its management.
The golgi tendon organ,
responsive to changes in tension in the muscle and the rate of that
tension change, will inhibit muscle spindle activity when it is
Simply said, we have neural receptors located at the junction of the muscles and tendons that can detect the change in tension in a muscle and the rate of that change. When that receptor is stimulated it causes a reflexive relaxation in that muscle. Using foam roller exercises assists in this allowing you to move a muscle into a greater length. For more information on the physiology click here.
As you can see there is little in the way of standardized guidelines with research evidence to support it's use, when, how, and with how much pressure. Why and how you are using the foam roller will likely determine its effect on performance later.
The effects of foam roller exercises on arterial stiffness and vascular
endothelial function was studied using 10 healthy adults. (3) After a
30 minute foam rolling session involving all the major muscle groups of
the thighs as well as the trapezius muscles, it was found that arterial
stiffness was reduced and vascular endothelial function had improved.
1. GZ MacDonald, MDH Penney, ME Mullaley, AL Cuconato, CDJ Drake, DG Behm, DC Button. An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
March 2013 Volume 27,3 p 812-821.
2. KC Healey, DL Hatfield, P Blanpied, LR Dorfman, D Riebe. The Effects of Self Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Post acceptance April 2013.
3. T Okamoto, M Masuhara, K Ikuta. Acute Effects of Self Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
Post acceptance, 9 April 2013