Foam rolling may increase range of motion in some joints, even for a short time, but little is known exactly how long does this short-term change lasts.
Researchers from Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina recruited 29 young subjects (21 women, 8 men) with various experiences with exercise and foam rolling, from recreational athletes to sedentary ones with no experience with foam rolling. (1)
The subjects warmed up by pedaling on a stationary bike for five minutes and performed a vertical jump test and a sit-and-reach test as a baseline measurement. Then they were randomly assigned to a foam rolling group, dynamic stretching group, combo group (foam rolling + stretching), and a control group (no foam rolling) where they rested for more than 20 minutes before retesting. Subjects in the foam rolling group rolled their glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves for 3 sets for 30 seconds with a 30 second break between sets.
It turns out that there was hardly any difference in the sit-and-reach tests among the groups, but there was “significant difference” in the vertical jump height between the experimental groups and control group after five minutes post-treatment (about 7% difference). However, when the groups were retested every five minutes, the differences among the groups become much less apparent. In other words, the groups performed the same after 15 to 20 minutes post-treatment.
Researchers noted one problem with this study is the sampling population. Because the subjects have different levels of fitness, that could influence how well they respond to exercise and performance, from the bike warm-up to recovery between tests.
“As a result, some participants may have experienced postactivation potentiation, whereas others experienced fatigue or postactivation depression. This could be the result of differences in fitness levels among our subject pool. Approximately 20% of the subjects were identified as sedentary. Indeed, the ability to capitalize on postactivation potentiation is related to, among other factors, training background, number of type II muscle fibers, and strength levels,” the researchers stated.
There could be potential application for athletes on on the court or field, especially in basketball and volleyball where the vertical jump is often used. But is this practical? Would athletes need to foam roll during their time outs or rest periods? Probably not.
Because there was no difference in performance five minutes after foam rolling and/or dynamic stretching, which agrees with some of the previous research, the researchers concluded, “Because there was no synergistic effect of [foam rolling] and [dynamic stretching] on performance and previous studies have shown acute enhancement in ROM after DS, the use of FR may be better suited for other times throughout the day rather than being a part of the warm-up.”
1. Smith, Jason, C.; Pridgeon, Brooke; Hall, MacGregor, C. Acute Effect of Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching on Flexibility and Jump Height. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. April 04, 2018. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002321.
A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.
An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.
When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.