Foam rolling has become the golden child of muscle relief. Walk into a big box gym and you’ll see people doing foam rolling exercises, or attend a group fitness class and you might use foam rollers before the warmup. Some studios even offer entire foam rolling classes.
This increasing knowledge and use of foam rollers is great, but it can make us forget about another important element of fitness—stretching. Both have benefits and both should be part of your routine.
Adding foam rolling and stretching exercises to your schedule may seem like a lot, given that it’s hard to do even a 30-minute workout most days. But thanks to the many benefits of foam rolling and stretching, doing both can give your body and workouts a boost, provided you do them at the right times.
Foam Roller Benefits
The primary benefit of foam rolling is to alleviate tension in the muscle tissue. “If you have any little restrictions like scar tissue, fascia, or trigger points, regular self-myofascial release can help release those adhesions and soften the tissue,” explains Debra Stroiney, Ph.D., professor of sport and exercise science at Gannon University.
Foam rolling does this, in part, by increasing blood flow to the area you are rolling. “When you roll your muscles, you are pushing blood away, and then after it wants to rush in,” says David Behm, Ph.D., university research professor, applied neuromuscular physiologist, and sports scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
The combination of relieving tension and increasing blood flow provides benefits both before and after a workout. So grab your favorite foam roller, whether that’s a rumble roller or a foam roller, and get started!
Not exactly sure how to foam roll? Follow this guide for a break down of how to use a foam roller, and how not to use a foam roller.
Foam Rolling Pre-Workout
Foam rolling during a warmup literally warms up your muscles because of the increased blood flow. “Foam rolling is a whole-body thing,” Stroiney says, which prepares you for your workout.
Additionally, research shows that foam rolling for as little as five to 10 seconds increases range of motion, though rolling for longer leads to greater benefits. Plus, it provides these benefits without affecting performance during your workout, whereas static stretching before a workout can actually decrease power or performance, Behm explains.
And, despite the “hurts so good” reputation foam rolling has, it doesn’t need to hurt. On a scale of one to 10, where one is no discomfort at all, and 10 is severe discomfort, rolling at an intensity of seven out of 10 gives the same benefits as rolling at an intensity of nine, Behm says.“You can roll moderately and still get the same effects,” he says.
Stroiney recommends doing five to 10 minutes of foam rolling as part of your warmup. Behm says rolling an area for 30 to 60 seconds is best, but listen to your body. If an area needs extra attention, focus on that and roll it longer.