How to use a foam roller

How do you deal with such a foam roller during fascia training, and what is the purpose of rolling!?🤔 In the following article, I will explain how to use a foam roller…and more!😉

Do you want to jump to a specific section in this post? Then click on a link! 😉

1. How to use a foam roller – Practical application

2. How to use a foam roller – What are the effects?
2.1 Delayed-onset of muscle soreness (DOMS)
2.2 Range of Motion
2.3 Performance

If you still need a foam roller, then take this one: Blackroll*. There are also small balls (Ball*, Duoball*), which you can use, for example, to apply more pressure to certain parts of the body. I use the same. This foam roller and the small balls are hard and have a good effect. In addition, the quality is okay!😃

1. How to use a foam roller – Practical application

Excellent! You want to get straight to the point and start with the practical part! Here are two more notes in advance:

1. It can make sense, especially when using a large area (e.g., entire calf), to apply more pressure in the rolling direction towards the heart and to approach the opposite direction more relaxedly or to leave it out. For example, roll up the front of the thigh (above the kneecap to just below the hip) slowly and with reasonable pressure, then lower the roll and start again from the bottom. In this way, you ensure that the backflow of blood through the veins is not impeded. If the application is described below, you should always remember this. 😉

2. If you are affected by atherosclerosis or if your risk of suffering from this “vascular calcification” is increased (e.g., metabolic syndrome, obesity), then please talk to your doctor before you start a fascia massage.

Fascia training to improve tissue quality before training

At the beginning of the workout, roll over each body part relevant to the workout for about 30 seconds at a relatively slow and steady pace. For example, for a running-oriented ball sport, this could look like this:

  • Calves with trigger point ball
  • Hamstrings with Foam Roller
  • Glutes with trigger point ball
  • Thoracic spine with
  • Duoball Quadricpes with Foam Roller

[Joyce & Lewindon, 2016]

Foam roller as a post-workout recovery tool

At the end of the training, roll over the muscles used for about 60 seconds. The pace again was relatively slow and even. A foam rolling protocol for lower body recovery after a hard leg workout (NEVER SKIP LEG DAY!😉😅) might look like this:

  • Thighs in front with foam roller
  • Thigh outside with foam roller
  • Thighs behind with foam roller
  • Inner thighs with foam roller
  • Calves with trigger point ball
  • Glutes with trigger point ball

[MacDonald et al., 2014]

Train your fascia for muscle relaxation

Regardless of the training, roll over the tense muscles for about 60 seconds to relax the muscles. When rolling, keep your speed relatively slow and steady. A protocol with the foam roller for muscle relaxation could look like this:

  • Thighs in front with Foam Roller
  • Outer thighs with Foam Roller
  • Back thighs with Foam Roller
  • Inner thighs with Foam Roller
  • Glutes with trigger point ball
  • Back extensors, each with a trigger point ball or duo ball
  • Thoracic spine with douball

[MacDonald et al., 2014]

PS: You could also vary the tempo instead of constantly “just” rolling slowly and evenly. For example, you start with the roller at the lower end of your thigh (i.e., above the kneecap) and slowly massage in wavy movements towards the hips. Then, just below the hip, release the pressure and start from above the kneecap again.


2. How to use a foam roller – What are the effects?

You can buy a foam roller in different sizes and degrees of hardness [Junker & Stöggl, 2015]. Such foam rollers are commonplace in many gyms [Healey et al., 2013]. The technique of foam rolling can be seen as a form of massage. During fascia training, your own body weight is used to exert pressure on the soft tissues (muscles, connective tissue, etc.) with the help of the foam roller. The roller applies pressure directly to the soft tissue or is rolled over. The soft tissues are also worked on with foam rolling through stretching and friction [Pearcey et al., 2015].

The foam roller is usually used during warm-up [Peacock et al., 2015; Healey et al., 2013] or used as a post-exercise recovery tool [Peacock et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014; Healey et al., 2013]. It is believed that fascia training can have the following effects:

  • Correction of muscular imbalances [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Relieving symptoms of muscle soreness [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Reducing joint stress [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Improving neuromuscular performance [Peacock et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Increase in range of motion (ROM) [MacDonald et al., 2014; Mohr et al, 2014]
  • Increase in blood flow [Peacock et al., 2015; Mohr et al, 2014]
  • Reduction of scars in the fascia [Mohr et al, 2014; Healey et al., 2013]

From a scientific point of view, it is important to note that some effects, while accepted and strongly argued, have not yet been adequately substantiated [Junker & Stöggl, 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014]. In the following, I will explain the technique of fascia training in connection with muscle soreness, mobility, and physical performance. However, when considering the results, it should still be noted that there is comparatively little scientific work on foam rolling (as of 03/2018) [Freiwald et al., 2016].

If you look at the effects of the foam roll on muscle soreness, positive effects seem likely. But more on that in section 2.1 Fascial training and sore muscles.

There are also indications of the effectiveness of fascia training concerning increased mobility. For more on foam rolling and flexibility, see Section 2.2 Fascial Training and Range of Motion [Freiwald et al., 2016].

There are sometimes different results on physical performance in connection with the foam roller. A possible warm-up effect should not be ignored. But more on that in Section 2.3 Fascial Training and Performance! 😉

2.1 Delayed-onset of muscle soreness

After unusual activities [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Kim & Lee, 2014] or as a result of intense training sessions [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014], especially in the case of loads with pronounced eccentric muscle contractions (negative phase of the exercise) [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Kim & Lee, 2014], after a while one notices pain in the stressed parts of the body [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014].

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short, is distinct from acute pain during or immediately after exercise. Typically, muscle soreness occurs after a pain-free period of approximately 12-24 hours after exercise [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016]. It peaks after 24-72 hours and then subsides within up to 7 days [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015]

Muscle soreness is caused by exercise-induced muscle damage. The damage to the muscles caused by the training is characterized as follows:

  • Muscle pain with movement [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015]
  • Muscle swelling [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Inflammation [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Temporary muscle damage [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Increase in intramuscular protein [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Increased passive muscle tension [MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Decreased muscle strength [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015; Kim & Lee, 2014; MacDonald et al., 2014]
  • Decreased ROM [Mizumura & Taguchi, 2016; Kim & Lee, 2014; MacDonald et al., 2014]

In addition, exercise-induced muscle damage can also affect neuromuscular performance, for example, by altering sequencing and recruitment patterns (essentially resulting in muscles not being able to work as coordinated and powerfully as before). In addition, the impairments caused by muscle soreness can also lead to a reduced perception of joint angle positions [MacDonald et al., 2014].

Yes cool! 🙂 But how can fascia training help relieve the discomfort of sore muscles!?

A classic massage right after a workout generally reduces pain associated with sore muscles. However, it remains questionable whether a massage can also positively affect muscular performance per se [Poppendieck et al., 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015].

Like a classic massage, using a foam roller seems to reduce the pain caused by sore muscles. In addition, the duration of the sore muscles is reduced. In addition, foam rolling also seems to reduce the drop in performance caused by sore muscles [Pearcey et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014]. This means that sore muscles influence performance, but fascia training can counteract the drop in performance. This does not reduce performance as much.

The positive effects of the foam roller on performance are probably caused by a reduction in inflammation and the pain itself. The cause could be the increased blood flow caused by the foam rolling [MacDonald et al., 2014]. Foam rolling can be useful to improve recovery after exercise [Pearcey et al., 2015] and thus reduce overall recovery time [Junker & Stöggl, 2015].

2.2 Range of Motion

Flexibility is a very important part of motor skills. It depends on the available range of motion (range of motion) of different joints and the flexibility of the muscle-tendon units. In addition, flexibility is important for prevention [Junker & Stöggl, 2015; Markovic, 2015] and for rehabilitating musculoskeletal injuries. Many factors characterize the range of motion. Muscle tension is one cause of a reduced range of motion. Tensions can be triggered by adjustments to poor posture or scarring of connective tissue [Junker & Stöggl, 2015].

In general, static stretching (holding a certain stretching position for a longer period) improves flexibility in recreational and competitive sports. However, static stretching before training/competition can reduce performance in training/competition [Markovic, 2015; Mohr et al., 2014]. Whether static stretching alone reduces the risk of injury remains questionable [Mohr et al., 2014].

And yes…of course, there are other techniques, such as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) or Postisometric Relaxation (PIR), to increase flexibility [Junker & Stöggl, 2015]. However, these techniques are not as widespread among recreational athletes as the popular static stretching [Brenke, 2016]. 😉

In addition to static stretching, foam rolling may be a promising technique to increase the range of motion and reduce injury risk [Mohr et al., 2014]. Many works show that the use of the foam roller alone can have positive effects on the range of motion [Junker & Stöggl, 2015; Markovic, 2015; Peacock et al., 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014; Mohr et al., 2014]. If foam rolling resulted in performance in subsequent training/competition not negatively impacted, that would be a better alternative than traditional static stretching. More on that later in section 2.3 Fascial training and performance. 😉

Yeah, cool to know! 🙂 But why can working with the foam roller improve the range of motion?🤔

The beneficial effects of foam rolling appear to be based on foundations similar to myofascial release techniques in physical therapy [MacDonald et al., 2014]. However, it should be mentioned that further research is needed in this area since, despite the widespread use of myofascial release as manual therapy, the objective effectiveness has not yet been fully clarified [McKenny et al., 2013].

There are several assumptions as to how foam rolling might increase mobility:

  • Fascia training rehydrates (adds fluid) to the fascia, creating a gel-like extracellular (outside the cell) environment to allow for greater ROM [Junker & Stöggl, 2015]
  • Foam rolling can reduce arterial stiffness and thus improve arterial flexibility. Arterial distensibility is related to flexibility [Yamamoto, 2017; Junker & Stoeggl, 2015; Okamoto et al., 2014]
  • The fascial training triggers autogenous inhibition, which ensures that muscle tension is reduced (stimulation of the Golgi tendon organ by ischemic compression) [Junker & Stöggl, 2015]
  • Foam rolling reduces the adhesion of different fascial layers and thus leads to increased mobility [Junker & Stöggl, 2015; MacDonald et al., 2014].

2.3 Performance

OK cool! 🙂 We’ve established that foam rolling can reduce exercise-related muscle damage. The scooter may also help you to improve your mobility. 🙂 But does foam rolling also help your performance in the subsequent training or competition?🤔

As briefly described in section 2.1 Fascial training and sore muscles, foam rolling can reduce the drop in performance simply by alleviating the symptoms of sore muscles. In addition, it seems that the symptoms of sore muscles disappear more quickly and that intensive training or competition at a high level of performance is possible again at an earlier time.

But what about an acute performance improvement? Does fascia training give me what I need to take my performance to a higher level? So, apart from sports that require a high degree of flexibility, are there performance-enhancing effects from rolling?🤔

It is generally understood that foam rolling before a workout allows the athlete to increase the training volume. However, the scientific data on this is rather limited. A warm-up effect could explain increased performance [Healey et al., 2013]. You may now be thinking that this is obvious. Fascia training is used for warm-up, so massaging will help warm the body. Well, that’s not really what it’s meant to be. It’s not about the massage itself. Especially since the effects of a classic massage on performance remain questionable [Poppendieck et al., 2016; Pearcey et al., 2015]. Instead, it is about Performing the massage with the fascia roller makes it necessary for the body to be held in one position at all times. This is similar to plank exercises (plank, side plank, etc.) that strengthen the body’s core. Plank exercises would have a warm-up effect due to increased skin and muscle temperature, increased blood flow, and improved mobility [Healey et al., 2013].

The assumption is also that fascia training increases performance through myofascial relaxation (relating to muscles and fascia) before a workout. It is assumed that myofascial relaxation leads to increased mobility and efficiency of the neuromuscular system [Healey et al., 2013].

Some studies that have been carried out on the influence of foam rolling on physical performance sometimes come to different conclusions:

  • Su et al. (2016) and Healey et al. (2013) did not find any improvement in performance, but performance after foam rolling did not deteriorate either
  • Monteiro & Neto (2016) studied how foam rolling affects the agonistic muscle group (exercise: leg extension; agonist: quadriceps femoris, i.e., the front of the thighs) between sets. Result: The longer the foam roller is used during the break, the greater the subjectively felt exhaustion in the following set
  • In a later study, Monteiro et al. (2017) concluded that foam rolling in the antagonistic muscle group (exercise: leg extension; antagonist: hamstrings, i.e., the back of the thighs) during the set breaks worsens the performance in the following sets.
  • For some athletes, however, foam rolling can reduce subjective exhaustion. As a result, the athletes could feel comparatively relaxed and thus possibly benefit from the resulting psychological benefits during the workout [Healey et al., 2013]

The link marked with * is an affiliate link that belongs to the partner program. If you buy through this link, I get a commission; of course, you have no additional costs.



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Monteiro, E., R., Škarabot, J., Vigotsky, A., D., Brown, A., F., Gomes, T., M., & da Silva Novaes, J. (2017). Maximum repetition performance after different antagonist foam rolling volumes in the inter-set rest period. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Vol. 12. No. 1. pp. 76 – 84.

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