Like just about every other topic that relates to your health, you’ll find two kinds of articles on foam rolling: those that say it’s awesome and the others that say it sucks. Really helpful, huh? At RockTape, we’re big fans of foam rolling and that’s why we made the Rock n’ Roller to be what we consider the best foam roller on the market. But we’re also fans of not spending an hour foam rolling before and after exercise! So, here’s what we’ve learned about foam rolling and how you can use it most effectively and efficiently!

First things first, you probably aren’t “releasing tissues” or “stretching” things out when you use a foam roller. Just because something may feel sore during rolling does not mean it’s “tight” and needs to be “loosened.” Also, to stretch out fascia and connective tissue it would take hundreds of pounds of pressure applied over very long periods of time, so that idea is out the window, too. Plus, a foam roller compresses tissues rather than stretching them.

There’s probably a lot that’s happening when you use a foam roller that we quite simply don’t know is happening because it hasn’t been well-studied, but we do know that foam rolling can improve circulation,[1] discomfort* tolerance, range of motion[2] [3] and reduce fatigue,[4] allowing you to train harder for longer with fewer negative effects. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

How you roll before and after activities should be different. Before activity you want to prepare tissues and warm up while after activity you want to recover and reduce fatigue and soreness. Since the goals of pre- and post-activity rolling are different, you’d expect the way you use the roller should be different, too.

Before activity, use the roller on areas that feel “tight” or “restricted” or that you know are problem areas for you. Use the roller relatively slowly to scan the area that you are working. When you find a particularly sore spot or something that feels especially “restricted,” apply moderate (it won’t feel great but it also shouldn’t hurt) pressure to this area and oscillate the roller back and forth or up and down the area, moving it an inch or less over the area. Do this for around 10 seconds and make the oscillations rapid. Continue to scan the area and repeat, then move to the adjacent areas above and below the problem area and do the same, if needed. For example, if you’re rolling out your knee area, also hit the hip and your lower leg areas. These quick oscillations stimulate lots of different types of nerves, reduce sensitivity to discomfort* and warms up these tissues.

After activity, use the foam roller to scan your problem areas or areas that feel sore. This time when you hit particularly sore areas you want to put as much pressure as you can tolerate over the area and hold it for about 30 seconds. Slowly roll (think about ½ of an inch for each breath, and, yes, you should be breathing while you do this!) a little above and below the area, maintaining heavy, constant pressure.

When used in this way, foam rolling should only take a few minutes before activity and probably less than five minutes afterward. That’s a far cry from the 20-minute long torture-fests you’ve undoubtedly seen people put themselves through and the results should be more effective.

[1] Okamoto, T., Masuhara, M., Ikuta, K. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73.

[2] MacDonald, G.Z. et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increased range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 Mar:27(3):812-81.

[3] MacDonald, G.Z. et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increased range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 Mar:27(3):812-81.

[4] Healy, KC et al. The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014 Jan;28(1):61-68.

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