Foam Rolling vs Stretching

 Foam Rolling vs Stretching

For years, we’ve been taught that the best way to warm up for your workout and to reduce the risk of injury is a simple stretching routine. You touch your toes, pull your arm over your chest, pull until it hurts. Everyone from celebrity trainers to that one guy at the gym has recommended stretching, but how effective is it really?

If you do go to (just about) any gym, you’ll see an area dedicated solely to stretching, and there’s almost always someone there, preparing for an intense workout. In the same area, you might also see a few foam rollers on a rack or thrown around a mat haphazardly, almost as an afterthought.

Strangely, those foam rollers are actually a much more effective way to relieve muscle tension than even stretching is. If you haven’t already, it’s time to take a closer look at the best method for working those tight muscles.

The Problem with Stretching


I’m going to go ahead and spoil this article for you right now: stretching is not as effective as you probably think it is–especially for reducing soreness and risk of injury.

This flies in the face of traditional fitness teaching, but several studies have shown that static stretching doesn’t reduce your risk of injury and doesn’t decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Examples of static stretches might include touching your toes and holding for 20 seconds or clasping your arms overhead and extending.

These stretches can increase range of motion, but this isn’t always ideal for a workout. That is, unless your workout will include exercises like the splits or a back-bend.

Stretching does have a place, however. As a warm-up, dynamic stretching can be an effective way to increase blood-flow to your active muscles and prepare your body for exercise. Dynamic stretching includes movements like butt-kickers, twisting lunges, arm circles, and huggers.

Get on a Roll

foam rollers

If you’ve never done foam rolling before, it can seem a little odd. You basically put your weight on a little cylinder and roll back and forth. How does this help at all with muscle soreness or recovery? Well, there have actually been numerous studies conducted to gauge its effectiveness, and the results are pretty unanimous: it’s something you should be doing.

At its most basic level, foam rolling (or, to be technical, self-myofascial release) works the same way as a deep tissue massage. It works to compress and decompress the muscle tissue and surrounding support tissue (fascia) in order to work out knots, tightness, stiffness, and other unpleasant muscle issues through your trigger points.

One study found that self-myofascial release increases range of motion without compromising performance, while another found that participants who foam-rolled before a workout felt less fatigued afterward. These two effects mean that you’ll get more out of your workout, and will actually be able to exercise longer than if you didn’t use a roller.

Interestingly, in yet another study, self-myofascial release was even found to combat symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder with no known cure.

How Should You Do It?

If you’re now convinced that foam rolling is for you, you’re probably wondering where to start. Well, the first step is to get a good roller. Don’t go too cheap here. You want something with good, firm support that will last you a long time.

Second, spend some time researching moves on YouTube. Diagrams are great, but until you see the technique in motion, you’ll never get as much out of it.

Some of the greatest foam roller exercises massage the IT band, the lower back, hamstrings, and rhomboids. Once you become familiar with the basics, you can branch out a little more and experiment for yourself! Just keep in mind that it’s never recommended to use these techniques over a joint or directly on a bone.

That’s really all there is to it! If you can incorporate self-myofascial release into your current routine, you’ll find that you get much more out of your workouts. Even if you don’t have a strict routine in place already, you can still reap the massage-like benefits of foam rolling at a fraction of the cost a masseuse would charge.

So do yourself a favor. Stop stretching and get rolling.



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