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Foam rollers are having a moment. These handy stretch-sesh buddies from the ’80s now come in a variety of colors, types, and sizes. And in a world of fitness apps and gym gizmos, it’s sort of refreshing to use such a simple device.
Exactly what you think it is: You grab a little foam log and roll on it to relieve muscle tightness, inflammation, and post-workout soreness. Used consistently, your foam roller can also increase your joints’ range of motion.
Foam rolling is a kind of myofascial release, a massage style that involves applying sustained pressure to sore or tight muscles. Fans say it’s great for both workout warmups and cooldowns.
Foam rollers are light and small enough to keep handy in a car or backpack for outdoor hiking or biking adventures too.
Scroll on for the six ways foam rolling could be making your day better.
Feeling a little tender after leg day? Break out the foam roller!
A small 2015 study on young male athletes found that 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately after exercise (and then once a day for 2 days) resulted in significantly less post-workout muscle soreness than workouts without foam rolling.
And a recent study of 80 young adult men found that foam rolling after a workout soothed their muscles and helped them recover joint stability quickly.
More research is needed on how foam rolling affects women, older folks, and less active people. But for now, we can confidently say foam rolling probably has muscle-calming powers for all.
Devotees say their foam rollers boost their range of motion. Science says more evidence is needed.
Still, one teensy 2015 study of 11 teen boys found that a routine of foam rolling *plus* static stretching increased their range of motion more than stretching or foam rolling alone.
Obvs, we need more research on how foam rolling affects different types of bodies. 🤷 But if you’re hoping to feel a little looser, there’s no harm in incorporating foam rolling into your pre- and post-workout stretch routines.
Some folks claim their foam rollers massage away cellulite, but there’s no proof (womp womp).
So, what’s going on? Generally speaking, cellulite happens when fat collects between surface-level fascia and collagen fibers. And your roller does massage your body’s fascia (the net of connective tissues that hold your muscles together).
Just like dry brushing, foam rolling can *temporarily* increase circulation so your skin looks plumper and smoother, but it prob won’t banish cellulite.
A small 2014 study suggests that self-myofascial release (foam rolling) can ease tension to help you reach peak performance during your workout.
It makes sense that relaxing your muscles and joints could also relieve tension-related back pain. But this study included only 11 participants, and more research is needed.
Be careful, though: Back pain is no joke. You’ll want to roll with proper form so you don’t make things worse.
To avoid straining your lower back, try flipping your foam roller so it’s parallel with your spine. Roll slowly from side to side to work out the knots in your lower back and shoulder blades until the tension melts away.
Anyone with fibromyalgia knows fibro symptoms can interfere with the simplest of daily activities. From fatigue to stiffness and pain, the reminders of the disease are constant.
One small study of 66 folks with fibromyalgia found that those who used a foam roller on the reg for 20 weeks or more seem to have less:
There haven’t been many scientific trials on how foam rolling affects people with fibromyalgia, but the preliminary research is promising.
Tension headaches, achy backs, jelly legs — tight muscles make us cranky AF.
Foam rolling fans say the activity helps them relax, which makes sense. It’s a form of self-massage, after all.
But research linking foam rolling with relaxation *is* pretty limited. One small study concluded that foam rolling reduces stress hormones only slightly more than just resting on your back.
Pretty safe! If you’re moving your muscles regularly, it’s probably also OK to put some massaging pressure on them.
Here’s when to avoid foam rolling:
- if you have a muscle tear
- if you have a broken bone
- if you’re in your third tri of pregnancy
If you have any kind of serious injury, it’s best to talk to your doctor before busting out your foam roller.
And if you’re preggo, there’s a slight chance that leg massages could cause premature labor or dislodge a life threatening blood clot. This situation is rare, but we still recommend getting cleared by your doc before using a foam roller.
- Use gentle pressure if you’re new to foam rolling.
- Avoid rolling over your joints — knees, elbows, and ankles.
- Use the foam roller on your legs in sections — for instance, quads first, then calves. This keeps you from rolling over the backs of your knees.
The answer depends on your workout goals and personal preferences.
Some foam rollers are soft, and some are firm. Some foam rollers are textured, while some are smooth. Here’s the breakdown of the pros and cons of each kind.
|The deets||Yeah! 👍||Nah 👎|
|Soft rollers||The OG foam roller. Soft foam rollers are smooth and durable without being rock-hard. ||So perfect for self-myofascial release newbies. They’re also the most affordable of the bunch.||If you’ve got uber-tight quads or hammies, a soft foam roller might not give you the deep massage you crave.|
|Hard rollers||Hard foam rollers = a hard plastic core wrapped in soft foam. Ahhh…||Planning to use your foam roller daily? These will hold up longer than soft rollers. You can also apply more pressure.||Sensitive areas? Ouch! Hard rollers don’t mess around.|
|Textured rollers||Say hello to ridges, bumps, and knobs. ||The grooves let you vary your pressure for optimum circulation and trigger point release potential.||More pressure isn’t always better. Proceed with caution to avoid bruises.|
|Massage sticks||These are handheld sticks covered in foam.||Small and packable, these’ll help you give your legs or upper back a deep massage on the go.||Massage sticks are hella awkward for leg massages. If you need the full-body treatment, go with a roller.|
|Massage balls||Massage balls are often covered in foam or rubber nubs.||Compact and cheap, massage balls are great for working out shoulder knots at your desk.||They’re too small for a full-body myofascial release sesh.|
|Vibrating rollers||Why, yes, there are foam rollers that vibrate. Enjoy!||Promoters say the vibration encourages total tension release in your muscles and tissues.||Necessary? Nope. Expensive? Yep.|
Your first foam roller might not be your fave foam roller. Sometimes it takes a few tries, so you might want to try them out at the gym or in a store before dishing out a chunk of change.
Are you ready for this?
4 steps to the perfect foam roll
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.
- Position one area of your body on top of the roller. It’s easy to start with your calves, for instance. To adjust the pressure, prop yourself up so you’re putting less weight on the roller.
- Using light pressure, slowly roll sore areas for 10 seconds. (Unlock pro status by eventually working up to a full minute!)
- Chug lots of H2O after rolling. This helps with muscle recovery.
Still feeling unsure? Chat with a physical therapist or trainer at the gym for step-by-step instructions.
- Foam rollers can be super helpful for pre- or post-workout muscle tension.
- They’re also great for working out aches and pains from sitting for too long or sleeping in the wrong position.
- Using a foam roller can also improve your range of motion.
- Though some folks claim their foam rollers reduce cellulite or overall stress, there’s little scientific proof of those benefits.
- If you’ve had a major injury or are pregnant, talk to your doc before adding a foam roller to your daily routine.