Posts tagged foam roller
Optimizing Your Warm and Cool Down with Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching
Photo Credit: Rollrecovery.com

Photo Credit: Rollrecovery.com

The warm up is an essential element of any strength and endurance training session.  Starting your workouts with a proper warm up prepares your body for the upcoming demands of exercise, improves performance, and reduces your risk of injury.  In prior decades, warm ups consisted of brief aerobic activities followed by static (prolonged hold) stretching of major upper and lower body muscle groups.  As the scientific research on warm ups developed over the past decade we have come to better understand the detrimental effects of prolonged static stretching (>20 seconds) on upcoming athletic performance. 

Prior research has shown static stretching reduces sprint and distance running performance, decreases running economy and jumping performance, as well as, impairs strength testing.  Conversely, dynamic stretching involving short duration multi joint movements has been shown to reduce injury risk and improve performance in endurance and team sports.  These dynamic movements should closely mimic the demands of the athlete’s sport to assist in preparing the muscles and nervous system for optimal performance. 

Underlying this performance improvement is a phenomenon called post activation potential (PAP).  PAP describes the improvement in the muscular and nervous systems’ ability to communicate, contract, and perform immediately after brief, repetitive contractions of the given muscle.  An example of this phenomenon includes the use of a plyometric program where an athlete performs a larger jumping movement after a smaller preparatory jump.  The first jump primes the muscles and nervous system to produce a better performance on the second jump than would be possible with a single isolated jump. 

A second key area of our warm up should include foam rolling.  The repeated, short duration pressure applied by rolling equipment has been shown to improve mobility.  The mechanism behind this improvement is thought to be due to an improvement in the stretch tolerance of the muscle.  By reducing or eliminating the muscle’s signals to the nervous system to stop the pressure or stretch we are subsequently able to move through a greater range of motion.  Recent research highlights the benefits of working with a roller to both augment the effects of a dynamic warm up and improve recovery after training.

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Scientific research in this area has highlighted the benefits of combining foam rolling and soft tissue mobilizations with dynamic warm up activities.  Athletes who performed soft tissue work on major upper and lower extremity muscles prior to performing dynamic, multi joint movements performed better than their peers who performed a dynamic warm up alone.  The soft tissue work likely allowed the participants to move through a greater range of motion during their dynamic warm up augmenting the effects of the dynamic movements alone.  Athletes are encouraged to perform their warm ups after foam rolling to maximize performance.

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Foam rolling and soft tissue mobilization should also be incorporated after workouts due to their positive impact on muscle recovery.  A recent review article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined the impact of foam rolling on range of motion, delayed onset muscle soreness, and performance (Cheatham et al. 2015).  The 14 combined research articles supported the use of foam rollers to improve short-term flexibility and range of motion.  Importantly, unlike static stretching, rolling was not found to have any detrimental effects on future muscle or athletic performance and can be used safely before training or events.  When used after a challenging workout rolling may accelerate recovery by reducing delayed onset muscle soreness and improving ensuing muscle performance.  Athletes should strike for 2-3 bouts of 45-60 seconds on affected muscle groups followed by gentle, static stretching for optimal cool downs and recovery. 

In summary, the foam roller and soft tissue mobilization tools are quickly gaining in popularity as essential warm up and cool down tools.  Utilization of this equipment has been shown to reduce pain and soreness, improve flexibility and recovery, as well as increase sports performance.  Athletes are encouraged to utilize this equipment as part of their daily training programs. 

Foam Rolling's Impact on Ankle Flexibility

Foam Rolling is gaining in popularity due to its ability to accelerate recovery, treat sore and painful muscles, and improve flexibility.  Within the leg, ankle stiffness or reduced flexibility is commonly found in the ankle.  This loss of motion prevents the leg bones from properly moving over the foot during walking and running.  These changes in gait increase a patient's risk of developing heel pain, knee pain, or overuse injuries in our tendons.  Manual therapy treatments by a Physical Therapist combined with the use of a foam roller produce immediate change in flexibility across the ankle improving a patient's ability to squat, walk, or run.   Recent research has identified multiple mechanisms underlying the improvements in flexibility following foam rolling including an increase in an individuals tolerance to stretch.

A recent article in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy examined the impact of foam rolling on ankle flexibility (Kelly et al. 2016).  26 subjects foam rolled one of their calves 3 times for 30 seconds each.  Authors then assessed their ankle flexibility in a weight bearing position immediately and then up to 20 minutes after the foam rolling.  The authors found that ankle range of motion was improved up to 20 minutes after foam rolling in both the treated and untreated ankle.  The improvement in ankle motion in the non treated leg is contributed to the cross over effect seen in resistance training. The ability of a one sided treatment to improve both legs flexibility indicates a central nervous system adaptation is at work.  Patients who foam roll are improving their nervous systems ability to tolerate stretch on both legs.   

 

Effectiveness of Foam Rolling

I would imagine the foam roller is slowly taking the place of the exercise ball as the most common piece of exercise equipment in people's homes.  Its' low price and versatility for both exercise and self treatment make it very popular among clients and patients alike.  The foam roller is an effective piece of equipment for restoring mobility to body regions like the middle back and flexibility to upper and lower extremity muscles prone to tightness including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hips.  As its' popularity increases, researchers are looking closer at the effects of foam rolling on pain, soreness, and mobility.  

A recent review article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined the impact of foam rolling on range of motion, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and performance (Cheatham et al. 2015).  The 14 combined articles supported the use of foam rollers to improve short term flexibility and range of motion.  In addition, foam rolling was found to not have an negative impact on muscle performance and thus may be used safely before exercise sessions.  When used after intense exercise foam rolling may help accelerate recovery by reducing DOMS and improving subsequent athletic performance.   

Athletes should focus on utilizing the foam roller as part of their cool down following intense exercise to improve recovery.  The foam roller self treatment should be performed for 2-3 bouts of 45-60 seconds to affected muscle groups and can be followed by static stretching for further benefits.  Another area of research includes the effectiveness of foam rolling prior to performance.  Research has indicated foam rolling in combination with a dynamic warm up is an effective way to improve athletic performance.