Foam rolling’s recommended as an essential recovery tool with the general but vague and ambivalent theory that it ‘loosens muscles’. That’s something professor David Behm set about investigating by having 20 male subjects split into a foam-rolling (FR) and non-FR group, before participating in five testing sessions. The FR group performed a 20min FR session at the end of each testing session.
And what did Behm and his team discover? That FR resulted in less muscle soreness, higher vertical leaps and greater flexibility. That matched the positive outcomes of numerous studies, but Behm believes it has nothing to do with easing muscle stress, suggesting for that to have an impact would require much higher forces than a human could apply on themselves.
Instead, Behm says, it’s down to firing up the athlete’s nervous system, which registers and reacts to pain. Further research from Japan supports this notion, linking FR with improved arterial flexibility and vascular function.
The study concluded: “The most important findings of the present study were that FR was beneficial in attenuating muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic ROM [range of motion] in comparison with control. FR negatively affected several evoked contractile properties of the muscle, except for half relaxation time and EMD [electromechanical delay], indicating that FR benefits are primarily accrued through neural responses and connective tissue.