To foam roll or not to foam roll? That is the question many runners ask themselves, and the debate has been contested on countless group runs. Some runners swear by their foam roller, while others believe it’s nothing but a useless torture device. The sports science world is also a bit torn on the topic, but two new studies have demonstrated there may be some benefits to the popular recovery tool.
Study 1: do you need vibration?
As if we needed another element to add to the debate, we now have the option of using vibrating foam rollers, which, as the name suggests, vibrate as you’re rolling over your sore muscles. Presumably, this extra stimulus increases the benefits that regular foam rolling provides. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers compared regular foam rolling with vibration foam rolling and found they had similar effects on the participants’ range of motion, muscle strength and jump performance.
What does this mean? That you likely don’t have to shell out the extra cash on a vibrating foam roller, but it also shows that foam rolling does, in fact, provide some positive benefits for runners. After all, if you improve your range of motion (within reason) and strength, you should be able to run faster while reducing your risk for injuries.
Study 2: increased blood flow to help with recovery
The second study, published in the same journal, aimed to understand how foam rolling affects blood flow in athletes. In this case, the subjects were soccer players, but the study is still relevant to distance runners. The researchers assessed the athletes before they foam rolled, immediately after foam rolling and then again 30 minutes later, and found that immediately after foam rolling the athletes experienced a significant increase in blood flow to the targeted muscle. Thirty minutes later, however, their blood volume and velocity had returned to normal levels.
Increased blood flow to your muscles is an important part of the healing process, and this study shows that, at the very least, foam rolling does achieve this, even if the effects are only acute. “This increase of blood flow could promote important advantages for post-exercise recovery,” the researchers concluded.
The bottom line
Based on these two studies, it does appear that there are some benefits to foam rolling to promote mobility and muscle recovery. If you’re debating between a vibrating roller or a regular one, it doesn’t appear that the extra stimulus provides extra benefit, but what may actually improve the efficacy of the foam roller is to use it a few times per day. Of course, it is possible to go overboard with your foam roller, and there is a right way and a wrong way to use it. For this reason, make sure you speak with a physiotherapist or sports medicine expert who can teach you how to use it properly.