The Truth About Foam Rolling

The Truth About Foam Rolling

Article originally appeared on Men’s Health. 

How Foam Rolling Works by Michael Easter

Most trainers recommend foam rolling before a workout for good reason: A study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that rolling out for just a minute can improve your range of motion, while a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise discovered that rolling after an intense workout can relieve soreness over the next two days.

Many people in the fitness world believe that foam rolling “works” by steamrolling your muscles, breaking up scar tissues and lengthening the muscle tissue.

The problem: “Some research shows that it can take upwards of two hours to physically lengthen muscle tissue or break up scar tissue,” says Doug Kechijian, a doctor of physical therapy at Peak Performance in New York City. “And doing that is also a painful, painful process—foam rolling hits some sensitive spots but it generally doesn’t put you in pain.”

If foam rolling isn’t physically altering the muscle, then what, exactly, is it doing?

“There’s a pronounced difference between a muscle just feeling tight, and a muscle actually being tight,” says Kechijian.

Feeling tight is related to muscle tone, while actually being tight is related to your muscle tissues physically becoming shorter.

“Most people, when they perceive themselves feeling ‘tight’ somewhere, it’s really just that they have excessive muscle tone,” says Kechijian.

To understand tone, think of your muscles as guitar strings. “Based on stress, perception of threat, and all these different sensory inputs, your nervous system can tighten your muscles to keep you from reaching what it thinks are potentially dangerous positions,” says Kechijian.


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