Why I'm Not As Passionate About Foam Rolling As I Used to Be

Mike Coval
May 26, 2021

When I first learned about foam rolling early in my career, it made a lot of sense to me and I started using it on myself and then when I started my career I used it with all of my clients.

I used it with EVERYONE and was pretty adamant about people implementing into their daily routine.

I would hear about all of the benefits including:

"foam rolling gets rid of knots in the muscle"*

*FYI: Your muscles can't get "knots"....you will even see claims that foam rolling gets rid of adhesions which is also up for debate. There's no current research that supports this. Not to mention you would likely have to have some sort of invasive treatment (aka surgery) to cause a muscle adhesion and then a foam roller would need to be capable of providing enough force to create change at the adhesion site...which it won't.

"foam rolling increases flexibility"....the research is mixed on this and then as far as clients that I work with, I can't say for certain that I've seen in an improvement in flexibility immediately after foam rolling.

"foam rolling creates a increase in drive of your parasympathetic nervous system which helps the muscles relax"... this is a theory and not actually proven, and I'm open to that being true. However, muscle activity will be determined by joint position (specifically orientation of your ribcage and pelvis) and the demands of the activity you're performing. If muscles feel "tight", then we can change that through good coaching and a solid training program.

Now, I know it sounds like I'm poo-pooing on foam rolling.

That's definitely not my goal here.

Despite the mixed evidence (both anecdotal and in the research setting) my take on foam rolling is this:

If it feels good and you feel better after doing it, then great! Go ahead and do it. If you feel that it makes no difference, then don't do it.

As time has gone on, I've placed less and less value on foam rolling for my own health & wellness (although I still hit my feet with a lacrosse ball daily and multiple times per week I hit my glues and pec minor) as well as clients who don't experience any value in it. This is especially true with the time constraints that we have for our training sessions. I'd rather have you spend no more than 2-3 minutes on something that:
1) You can do on your own without any coaching needed

2) Isn't going to provide as much adaptation as everything else that we're going to do in a session

So you might be asking "okay, Mike, is foam rolling right for me?"

The answer is "yes" if you fall into one of the following categories.

1) 50 or older. I notice that with a good number of people that I've worked with over the years that are 50+ they tend to:

-move less

-sit more

-drink less water

In combination, this can lead to less pliable muscle tissue which can mean more "stiffness". Although there isn't research to back up foam rolling being a means of improving tissue quality in the 50+ crowd, I have noticed that that age group tends to benefit the most from it.

2) Athlete that puts a lot of wear and tear on their body

I work with a lot of basketball players and they will encounter a lot of repetitive stress throughout their careers. Often times, these athletes are playing basketball year round.

Making sure that they're balancing all of their high-intensity activities with lower level restorative means of recovery is important to keep them durable. Foam rolling can definitely play a role here.

For basketball players, I like to focus around the joints that take the brunt of the force when they play which means we hit:

Plantar Fascia

Calves

Quads/TFL/Adductors (ignore the IT Band...it has been shown that the IT Band has the tensile strength of steel and there's no way you're going to manipulate it with a foam roller)

Glutes

3) For those who are having muscle soreness from a workout and are looking to speed up the recovery process

The research has shown improvements in what is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Simply put, if you've ever done a workout that was tough and then didn't feel anything until the next day then that was DOMS kicking in.

Closing

I simply want you to feel better is all. If you believe that there is value and it makes you feel better, then I'm with you 100%. If you think it's a waste of time and don't want to spend any of your time doing, then I'm 100% with you too.

All I want to do is have everybody "win" and that's going to look different for each individual.

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Mike Coval

Coval Fitness is a Personal Training Studio and Gym in Ann Arbor, Michigan

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