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  • Writer's pictureBarbara

Foamrolling: The facts behind the trend

There is a lot of foam-rolling going on in the gym, in crossfit boxes and in living rooms. All in different ways, based on various YouTube videos, or relying on own intuition.

But what is foam rolling actually good for? And are all these advantages really correct? And, not unimportant, how do you foam roll in the right way?

You will find all the information in this article.

Foam rolling

Foam rolling is based on the SMR technique. SMR stands for Self Myofascial Release. The meaning of Myo = muscle, and the meaning of Fascial refers to the fascia, the connective tissue between and around muscles, bones and joints.

SMR should therefore help the muscles and fascia become less 'stuck', stimulate the blood circulation in the muscles and help to relax.

You do this by exerting pressure on the foam roller with your own body weight, while you slowly move your body back and forth over one specific muscle. Suppose you want to foam roll your calf, then you gently roll the entire muscle from (ankle) joint to (knee) joint on the foam roller.

During this quiet 'unrolling' you will quickly discover where the muscle is most painful. This is a pressure point, or trigger point.

At this point, take a break and breathe slowly while these trigger points receive counter pressure from the foam roller. This should be painful, but bearable.

What are the promised benefits of foam rollers?

After a search on the worldwide web, you will soon discover the many benefits of foam rolling;

We are going to take a closer look at these promises, so that you know exactly what foam rolling is good for and how you can use it in your training sessions.

Promise: Foam rolling reduces muscle pain

> Partly true

Many studies have been done on foam rolling and the reduction of muscle soreness and muscle recovery. Many of these studies found no positive effect of foam rolling on reducing muscle soreness. Other studies found that effect, but these studies were often done with an inactive control group. This means that one group of test subjects was active with foam rollers and the other group of test subjects did nothing. It turns out that foam rolling is indeed better for muscle recovery (and reducing muscle pain), than doing nothing.

But foam rolling has not been compared in these studies with active recovery forms such as walking or other light movements that stimulate blood flow.

Active recovery forms have been proven effective in muscle recovery after a workout, and foam rolling is also an active recovery form and therefore helpful.

In addition, there is also an entire chapter to write about muscle pain and its correlation with muscle recovery. Muscle pain does not always mean that there is muscle damage, nor does it mean that if you do not have muscle pain, it does not necessarily mean that there is no muscle damage.

Here we now assume the scenario that there is muscle damage, where the blood flow is stimulated by the foam rolling, so that the muscle pain decreases.

Promise: Foam rolling helps against injuries and/or their recovery

> Not true

It has been proven that a good warm-up can prevent injuries. This increases your body temperature and therefore the synovial fluid (see it as a kind of joint oil) that is located in the bursa (the bursae) in your body, becomes viscous and thus protects your joints. Foam rolling adds nothing to this process.

However, you can use it as part of your warm-up as a dynamic stretch, it will not negatively affect your sports performance.

The best advice to avoid injuries:

1. Always start with a warm-up

A good warm-up takes about 8 - 10 minutes, where you are between 60% - 70% of your maximum heart rate (depending on your exercise experience).

2. Make sure you have good technique

Are you in doubt about your own technical skills or could you use some help anyway? Get a good personal trainer! It is better to invest in good technique from the start, than to start with a bad technique and then get an injury.

3. Take your load capacity into account

Every day is different. Your load capacity is determined by, among other things, your stress level, your mental state, your sleep and your diet. Adjust your training volume (total number of sets and repetitions, per muscle group, per week) accordingly.

When it comes to recovering from injuries, foam rolling is no better than other active forms of recovery. Recovery benefits from improved blood flow to the muscle, which can be achieved in several ways.

Promise: Foam rolling makes you flexible or limber

> Not true

What is usually understood by 'being a loan' is increasing your ROM (Range of Motion) and your flexibility. This makes sense, to a certain extent, in strength training. If you increase your ROM, and therefore have a greater range of motion, you can train your muscle better over its entire length. One of the basic principles of strength training is that you always work towards the largest possible ROM.

Unfortunately, it is not the case that foam rollers can help you with this. 'Becoming more flexible' has to do with adjustments in the muscle tissue on the one hand, and on the other hand pushing your pain threshold.

Agility is largely a neurological process. Your nerves send a pain signal to the brain when you stretch yourself further than your body is used to, with the aim of preventing possible injuries. You can teach your body to gently push this pain threshold.

Foam rolling does contribute to shifting this pain threshold, but has very little effect on the muscle tissue itself. Due to the dynamic movement of the foam rolling, you can increase your flexibility in the short term, but that effect is of relatively short duration.

Would you like to become more flexible? Then choose static stretches where you keep your stretch for a longer period of time.

Promise: Foam rolling relieves pressure on the trigger points

> Partly true

Various studies have shown that firm foam rolling can increase your pain threshold between 15% and 20%. A massage by hand cannot match this, with a maximum increase of 11% being measured. The painful areas in your muscles can therefore be treated well with foam rollers as a form of symptom control. So you will actually suffer less from a muscle knot or trigger point after foam rolling.

Promise: Foam rolling makes your muscles function better

> Probably true

Several studies have been done on this, but they are not necessarily consistent in their findings. The investigations found were done in various spectrums; strength training, agility, jump forms, plyometrics, sprinting and agility.

Demonstrable, but slight, improvements in athletic performance were seen from foam rollers in strength training, agility and jump forms. A negative effect with plyometrics and virtually no effect with sprinting and agility.

Conclusion: is foam rolling worthwhile or not?

Yes! Foam rolling is very suitable for improving your pain tolerance and also for (somewhat) improving your sports performance. In addition, foam is a very good active recovery form (by stimulating blood flow), in addition, it can be good up in a warm one.

So: Not a miracle cure, but a nice tool!


Do you want the best possible workout that is tailored to your body and your goals? Our trainers are specially trained for this and come to you when it suits you. This can be done at home, or on location outside, such as during your lunch break at the office or in a park nearby. Our trainers are certified, speak English and Dutch. And especially for women we have ‘Ladies Only’. Sports coaching for women, by women. Also for guidance during pregnancy or after childbirth.

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