The benefits of foam rolling

How to use foam rolling for best results

Mike Chen, MTI Physical Therapist

Mike Chen, physical therapistFoam rolling is a common tool widely used to warm up, loosen muscles, and help with recovery. But does it actually work and what is the best way to use it?

There is good evidence that foam rolling is more beneficial pre-workout than post-workout. A recent analysis found that foam rolling can give you short-term muscle flexibility without decreasing muscle performance. Elite runners experienced a 0.7 percent increase in performance in sprinting and a 4 percent improvement in flexibility. Improvements in helping muscles recover for repeated performances were minimal.

The mechanism behind how foam rolling actually affects the body is actually a hotly debated topic without a clear answer. Some believe there are actual mechanical effects on muscles and fascia that lead to decreased adhesions and stiffness. Others say it is a neurologic effect, where receptors in your skin, muscles, and other tissues send messages to your brain to help inhibit pain; increase blood flow; and release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins.

The best practice for foam rolling, according to a recent study, is to roll for three sets of 30 seconds each. That study found that rolling the calf muscle for 90 seconds significantly improved ankle mobility for up to 30 minutes. Rolling for just 30 seconds did not improve ankle mobility, and rolling for longer than 90 seconds did not seem to improve ankle mobility more or for longer.

Long story short: Ninety seconds of pre-workout foam rolling could increase your performance over the next half-hour by up to 4 percent. Who wouldn’t trade a minute and a half for an improvement like that?!

Mike Chen is a doctor of physical therapy and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. MTI Physical Therapy is located in the WAC Wellness Center on the 4th Floor of the Clubhouse. WAC members may schedule an appointment by calling 206.839.4780 or emailing wac@mtipt.com. MTI is in-network with most major health insurance companies.

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