Effect of foam rolling on training performance

In recent years, self myofascial release (foam rolling, massage balls etc.)has been all the rage to prepare for training, game day & recovery, but what effect does the amount of time you spend foam rolling have on your training performance?

Foam rolling has been shown to decrease the feeling of muscle soreness, but, a 2016 study, “The effect of different foam rolling volumes on knee extension fatigue” found that foam rolling for 120-seconds led to higher levels of muscular fatigue than foam rolling for 60 seconds. This information suggests the longer the foam rolling duration, the higher the muscular fatigue which lead us to believe that longer durations can actually be more detrimental to your performance.

It is unclear why foam rolling for long periods of time is detrimental to performance but one possible explanation is a decrease in blood flow to the area. This is thought to be due to the pressure of foam rolling on the muscle site. This doesn’t allow for metabolic byproducts to clear and nutrients to be delivered to the affected area, leaving us under prepared and more fatigued for the upcoming session. 

Considering all this, does that mean you mean you should throw away your foam roller?

No, from the best current evidence available, foam rolling can still be used to increase flexibility, range of motion, blood flow, and decrease muscle soreness when it is used consistently. (Acute effects of deep tissue foam rolling and dynamic stretching on muscular strength, power, and flexibility in Division I linemen. 2017)

As such, although foam rolling can be used as an effective modality to improve short term flexibility, when performed for too long, it will cause a decrease in physical performance. An earlier onset of fatigue will lead to an unwanted reduction in performance (total weight lifted). Based on the current evidence, avoid foam rolling before or during sets. However, if you do foam roll between sets, short durations of <60-secs appear to be best to maintain performance.