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Foam Rolling Explained

So as Runners, Exercise Enthusiasts, Crossfitters as well as many other Sports, many of you would have heard about foam rolling.

What does Foam Rolling do?

What is happening to our tissue?

Will Foam Rolling Prevent, or reduce the risk of an injury?

Yes, there may be some good/uncomfortable parts, but what do we really believe happens when we roll up and down on a piece of dense foam?

In a Nut Shell, But please read on further to learn how a muscle actually increased the ROM about a joint!

  1. Muscles lengthening is only temporary (7mins they say!)
  2. Lengthening a muscle will not increase strength, Strength Training will increase Strength
  3. Our Nervous System tells our muscles what to do, not the other way round!
  4. Increasing our strength within our end ranges will contribute to reducing the risk of injury, lengthening muscle without strengthing via static stretching, rolling, voodoo flossing as well as many others, can open us up to an ‘unknown zone’, and without control, self-management over the new range, there is logic to suggest you may end up increasing your risks of injury.

So Why Foam Roll?

It feels good, a nice way to relax!

You become more body aware,

Decrease sensitivity within an area,

Great way to open up an end range to gain strength, this would be done BEFORE strengthening


So Yes/No?

Based Scientific evidence, foam rolling will increase flexibility for a short time, but it doesn’t serve much purpose unless you are getting something else out of it, relaxation, increase ROM to activate and strengthen, desensitise a tense area.

If we rest ourselves on an area of tension, we should be able to persuade the GTO to relax to increase the ROM about a joint, but we need to ensure that Foam Rolling isn’t the only thing you do. Think about going from parking a car to parking a van, our parameters have changed and we need to adapt to this.

If you are within a Sport that requires you to have a lot of mobility such as a martial art or CrossFit, this is a great way to become more mobile as long as the control within your new range is controlled.

If you are in a sport that requires less amounts of flexibility e.g. Running, Cycling, Triathlons etc. I’d ask yourself what is your intention, what do you want to get out of Foam Rolling? And if you are not sure, don’t particularly like it or are time poor for accessory work…  then Strength Train over Rolling/Stretching!

Take home message:

No pain, and understand the gain! Or just don’t do it.


How a Muscle responds to being Lengthened

There is a lot of exercise physiology that goes on, so we'll just keep it simple.

We have two sensory organs that determine our level of flexibility called 'Muscle Spindles' and 'Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs)'

It's their responsibility to communicate our muscle and brain in order to determine our capable ROM and potential ROM.

Golgi tendon organs are located in tendons near the tendinous junction, it measures the amount of tension and load within the tendon.

A GTO responsibility is to relax a muscle using a process called Autogenic Inhibition. This is when there is too much perceived tension that the tendon unit will potentially become damaged. Autogenic inhibition will inhibit (reduce the tension) of the muscle after about 6-7 seconds to make the muscle tone weaker to prevent a potential tendon rupture.

Muscle Spindles are located within the muscle belly alongside the muscle fibres (used to contract a muscle). The Muscle Spindles are sensitive to changes in length as well as the speed a muscle is lengthening.

When the spindles sense a quick lengthening within the muscle belly, it'll lengthen very quickly and then it'll shorten very quickly to prevent injury to the muscle this is known as the stretch reflex.

The Muscle Spindles also have other properties to help contract/relax the antagonist muscle (opposite muscle) this is called Recipical Inhibition -this is very interesting, but we’ll save this information for a different day!

Next What is the Core?

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