Foam Rolling, When is best, Before or After Exercise?

Neuromuscular fatigue following an exercise or training session can impair sports performance and increased injury risk in athletes. Self-myofascial release, an umbrella term for tissue-assisted self-treatment, using a foam roll, has been widely used and promoted to reduce muscle soreness after exercise. The mechanisms of foam rolling are still unknown, although research has started to focus this issue and there is evidence for a beneficial circulatory response.

A study from Germany aimed compare the effects of a single bout of preventive or regenerative foam rolling (FR) on exercise-induced neuromuscular exhaustion. A randomised-controlled study was designed. Forty-five healthy adults (22 female; 25±2 yrs) were allocated to three groups:

1) foam rolling of the lower limb muscles before induction of fatigue (called preventative)

2)  foam rolling after induction of fatigue (called regenerative)

3) no-treatment, or control.

Neuromuscular exhaustion was provoked using a standardized and validated functional agility short-term fatigue protocol.

The results show that preventive (-16%) and regenerative foam rolling (-12%) resulted in a decreased loss in maximal isometric voluntary force of the knee extensors (MIVF) compared to control (-21) five minutes after exhaustion. However, differences over time between groups regarding pain and reactive strength did not turn out to be clinically meaningful.

The authors concluded that a single bout of foam rolling reduces neuromuscular exhaustion with reference to maximal force production. In addition, regenerative rather than preventive foam rolling seems sufficient to prevent further fatigue.