Why is foam rolling so important?

Foam rolling is a self-massage method dating back to the 1980s. It was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, a Ukrainian physicist, engineer, scientist, athlete and creator of the first foam roller (massage roller). Being a martial arts researcher, he once noticed that using this technique allowed him to reduce knee pain. For this he used a foam roller, which he usually used in exercises for balance and for added body support. In 1987, his student Sean Gallagher began using this method for self-massage, and then popularized it among Broadway dancers who were very impressed with its positive effects.

And so, by word of mouth, experts in various fields passed on valuable information about the benefits of body rolling, incorporating it into their routine. However, the biggest breakthrough came in 2004 with the publications of Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. Then, in 2008, an anatomical manual was issued showing how to properly roll the muscles. In this article, you’ll learn what purpose you can use rolling for and how to perform it correctly. If you’ve already been exposed to this issue, you’ll have the opportunity to verify your knowledge.

When is it a good idea to foam roll?

Rolling has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, from people training in the gym, through athletes of many disciplines, to those who just want to take care of their mobility and relax excessively tense muscles. Moreover, this method of self-massage is great to use both before training, in combination with an active warm-up and dynamic stretching, as well as after training. If you want to find out what a properly conducted warm-up should look like, see the article.

Additionally, it’s a very good solution also for people who aren’t athletes, but have a sedentary job or struggle with lumbar spine pain.

Advantages of foam rolling

Key benefits of rolling include:

  • warming up the muscles,
  • improving mobility,
  • detachment of the fascia from the muscles,
  • accelerating recovery after an injury,
  • supporting muscle regeneration,
  • improving the flexibility of the muscle fascia,
  • relaxing tense muscles,
  • reduction of swelling,
  • raising the threshold of muscle pain,
  • improving venous and lymphatic circulation,
  • increasing muscle performance,
  • skin firming.

What is the foam roller used for? 

A foam roller or massage roller is a cylindrical tube of compressed foam used for massage. Its task is to relax the muscle fascia, which can stick to the muscles, creating so-called “trigger points”. This, in turn, is perceived as unpleasant discomfort and pain, which can radiate to further muscle parts, but also to other structures, such as joints, tendons or ligaments. 

The role of the fascial massage is to release the stuck fascia from the muscles, which occurs due to inflammation that arises between the tissues. It allows the tissues to be properly re-hydrated and nourished, which restores the body's flexibility, contractility, blood supply and energy levels. 

Roller is ideal as a complement to recovery exercises after a training unit. The way to use this mobilization device is very simple – just put the roller under the muscle that needs to be massaged, and then perform rolling (self-massage) in the selected direction or in many of them, depending on the specific rolling technique.

How do you roll out your muscles?

Foam rolling is a simple activity and you usually know intuitively how to move around the roller you’re using. However, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the basic rolling technique before you begin:

  1. You should roll each muscle part for no longer than 3 minutes. In practice, this means that you should do a few to a dozen up and down movements in the selected area, and then move on to the next.
  2. Remember to never use the roller directly on the joints (e.g., hip, knee, elbow).
  3. Proper rolling should be done slowly, moving to the further sections of the muscle, inch by inch. When using it, it’s recommended to divide the muscle into three segments: lower, middle and upper. After rolling each of them, you can make several movements along the entire length of the muscle, although it’s not recommended to make too long movements without prior segmental self-massage.
  4. If you come across a very painful spot (called a "trigger point"), you should pause on it for several seconds. When the pain begins to subside, it’s a sign that the muscle is relaxing. On the other hand, when such a place starts to hurt much more, you should immediately change the pressure point. This may mean that the trigger point is the fascia that is glued to the muscle that surrounds it, and you’re inadvertently gluing it together even more. In such cases, it’ll be extremely important to have the help of a qualified physiotherapist to loosen the trigger points through manual therapy.

What to foam roll?

The most important rule about foam rolling is that you should only focus on the muscles and fascia. Therefore, you can’t roll out the joints or the bone processes. Apart from the fact that self-massage of these areas can be very painful, it won’t do any good.

The muscle parts that are particularly worth rolling are the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, traps and lats. As you can see, these are mostly large muscle parts.

How often should you foam roll?

Daily or almost daily rolling is suggested for maximum benefit. With self-massage, it's much like exercise – you have to be consistent to achieve measurable results. 

Researchers have noted that some of the effects of rolling are short-term (e.g., warming up muscles, aiding muscle recovery), while the rest are long-term (e.g., detaching fascia from muscles, improving mobility). For this reason, try to incorporate short sessions of rolling into your workout routine before and after workouts or simply whenever you feel tense or would like to speed up your recovery, as it can contribute to more efficient workouts.

When to foam roll?

Remember, just like any other method that prepares your body for training and facilitates post-workout recovery, rolling should be used as a tool to help you feel better both during and after your workout. This means that you can, and should, adjust your routine to what works best for you. Don't put pressure on yourself to maintain a strict schedule. Start by rolling according to your needs and available time. 

Which foam roller accessories are the best?

There are many different rolling accessories available in stores. They differ in shape, texture, level of hardness, but also in the material they are made of, and it’s a matter of individual choice. The best way to find out which one will suit you is simply to test the equipment on yourself. Of course, among rollers you’ll also find those dedicated to specific muscle parts, but this is often just a marketing ploy.

You’ll find several types of mobilization devices on the market for muscle and fascia relaxation:

  • Lacrosse ball,
  • duoball,
  • roller with deep tread,
  • smooth roller,
  • vibrating roller.


Foam rolling before a workout – why is it worth it?

Pre-workout self-massage should include more dynamic movements. Perform them in fewer repetitions (a range of 6-10 movements is acceptable). The purpose of pre-workout rolling is to:

  • improve muscle flexibility,
  • improve the relationship between the sliding surfaces of fascia and muscle,
  • increase mobility.


The muscles shouldn’t be overly relaxed. Scientific studies have proven that, just as with static stretching before training, such a state of muscles can promote injury. It’s advisable to perform dynamic stretching before training. 

Post-workout foam rolling – why is it worth it?

Post-workout self-massage should consist of slow and controlled movements. Use slightly more repetitions per muscle area than you would for pre-workout rolling (in the range of 12-20 movements). Focus on one muscle for about 2 minutes. Post workout rolling is designed to:

  • reduce the perception of delayed onset muscle pain syndrome,
  • improve circulation,
  • support recovery,
  • reduce pain,
  • prevent injury.

Additionally, research has shown that rolling performed after a training unit has a positive effect on athletic performance in terms of increasing power and speed, as well as maximizing muscle recovery and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Foam rolling and scientific research

Based on the results of many smaller studies conducted in clinical settings, researchers have observed that foam rolling also works well as a method to aid in rehabilitation after injury

Moreover, foam roller self-massage has a positive effect on arterial stiffness and vascular endothelial function. This is mediated by reducing the load on collagen fibers and transferring it to stretchable and relaxable elastin. This in turn affects smooth muscle tone and leads to increased elasticity of blood vessel walls. Researchers believe that regular use of a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness.

An additional benefit of rolling is the improvement in muscle flexibility in the long term, but only if the therapy is done regularly. 

Research has shown another benefit of using self-massage is that it expands the range of motion of muscles. It turns out that 20-second repetitions in a series are just as effective as single 60-second sessions.

When should you not foam roll?

People with certain conditions should avoid foam rolling, and this includes things like:

  • fractures,
  • acute inflammations (post-traumatic, exacerbations in the course of RA),
  • osteoporosis,
  • fresh skin break,
  • hematomas,
  • recent muscle injuries (ruptures, tears or strains),
  • fresh condition after surgical intervention,
  • severe skin hypersensitivity,
  • general infections of the body, as well as infections located in places subjected to foam rolling,
  • aneurysm.


Foam rolling is a form of self-massage suitable for most people who don’t suffer from the above mentioned ailments, regardless of the type and intensity of physical activity. It’s worth introducing it into your training routine, because it’ll help you: reduce muscle tension causing everyday discomfort, speed up your regeneration between training sessions, improve your mobility, and prevent lower back pain. 

It’s also important to choose the right mobilization accessories for rolling according to your preference or technique. 

You should also familiarize yourself with foam rolling methods and decide whether you’ll roll before or after your workout, depending on what your goal is, or perhaps add a self-massage session on a day off from your workout.

The creator of the foam rolling technique, Moshe Feldenkrais, has repeatedly stated a motto that deserves to be recognized and followed every day: 

“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself. "


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