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New study on the benefits of foam rolling
by on Tuesday, March 12, 2013  (8 comments)

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Foam rolling has become very popular for runners. As soon as I got a roller last year to attempt to rehab some hip tightness, I was convinced. Combined with stretching, it took less than a week to relieve the persistent tightness I had been experiencing for quite some time. In the intervening time, it's helped me quickly handle relapses in the hips, as well as work through calf tightness, hamstring tightness and various other minor problems before they became major or persistent problems.

One of the nice things about foam rolling is that it improves your flexibility without the drawback of reduced power production that static stretching can cause.

However, not much study has been done on foam rolling. The benefits have been anecdotal. Now, anecdotal evidence has its place and I've been a strong proponent of foam rolling, as a few of the people I coach can tell you, but it's nice to see controlled studies show what we have seen anecdotally.

Now, we have the first study.

To sum up the study, participants were tested for knee joint range of motion and muscle strength before, as well as 2 minutes and 10 minutes after foam rolling. Strength was not reduced after foam rolling but range of motion increased by fairly significant amounts.

Now, this was a small study (11 participants) but the results do confirm what we've believed all along. Foam rolling is an effective way to increase flexibility without reducing muscle power production.

What should we take from this? Here's what I'm taking from it. There are good reasons to not do static stretching before a run. We all have heard about the warnings of stretching a cold muscle. Along with that, there is evidence that we do lose power production at least for a period of time after static stretching. This could result in performance decreases if you static stretch before you run. So the question is, if you are tight and need to loosen up before a run, what do you do? Based on this, foam rolling seems like one alternative.

I've done pre-run foam rolling before early morning runs just because it feels good and I feel like it helps "wake up" my legs before a run. These results don't surprise me at all, as I can feel a lot of that early morning tightness disappear after those sessions.

What do you think? Have you tried pre-run foam rolling?

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8 comments
Andrew A.:

Good takeaway, I will be giving pre-run foam rolling a shot!

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Ryan:

Likewise, I'm going to be making pre-run foam rolling a more regular part of my routine. Especially for those morning runs where I'm usually heading out the door feeling tight and it takes 2-3 miles to really loosen up and get going.

I also can't wait to see more research on this. This study is promising but I'd love to see more to back it up.

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Ed:

Is this available through Eastbay at a Hillrunner discount? Do you have any suggestions on places to purchase? Type of roller to purchase? Do they come with instructions on use in different areas?

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Ryan:

There are a few options available at Eastbay. Andrew pointed me toward a place that made more high-end and possibly more durable foam rollers. He could probably fill you in on the details. I can't recall the name of the company.

I realize this may not be the greatest business move but I'll tell you where I got mine. I went to Target and picked one up from the fitness equipment section there. The one I got came with an instructional DVD. I used that as a starting point and experimented on myself until I found the routine that works best for me.

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Ed:

Excellent - I will check Wal-Mart (I get a 10% discount on top of the low prices) this could help my legs feel refreshed after a run and be ready quicker for the next day's run.

Thank You -

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rpolly30:

Great advice: Pre run foam rolling! I really get irritated with foam rolling the calves but it does seem to make a difference. I have taken to setting a timer on my phone to remind me to get up and roll or stretch. Making this rehab week dooable!

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Ed:

Wal-mart isn't going to workout. I'll check Target. Andrew - what is the place to which you pointed Ryan?

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Ryan:

Found it back: http://www.tptherapy.com/

I also checked their affiliate program, which Andrew asked me about before. I won't be signing up as they ask me to send sensitive information (SSN, etc.) over an unsecured connection, which is an identity thief's dream come true. So, if you want to get there, unfortunately you can't help me pick up some commissions. But I'm sure those rollers are far more long lasting than the one I got at Target.

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