How the foam roll enhances the benefits of stretching

Can the Benefits of Stretching really be trumped by use of the foam roll?

written by john c ashworth, ma, ces

The Benefits of Stretching are many.  However, when muscles get store and extremely tight, use of the foam roll as a first defense is often more effective for optimal recovery and long term relief.

Almost every night before I go to bed, I spend about 10 minutes on the foam roll.  In addition, after almost every strength training workout I perform, I spend about 10 minutes on the foam roll before I hop in to the pool to finish my recovery.  Recent research has shown that use of the foam roll post strength training workout is a fantastic way to reduce the soreness often associated with your work in the weight room.

Tonight on NBC with Leigh Mills, we will discuss how the foam roll can enhance the benefits of stretching.  You see, when your muscles get tight, sore, and locked up, stretching is not really the best first choice of remedy.  A better combination is a little cardiovascular exercise, followed by some foam roll time, and then maybe some stretching.  I say “maybe” because while the benefits of stretching are many and I do NOT want to discount them, sometimes your muscles need to first be unlocked, and then left alone for a little while.

When your muscles are tight, they become a lot like knots in a shoe lace, or an analogy I like better is “a lot like stuck together spaghetti noodles.”  For the purposes of this discussion, though, I want you to think of your tight muscles like knots in a shoelace, because what I am about to explain next will make more sense.  If you tug on a knot, it only gets tighter and more difficult to undo.  In much the same way, your tight muscle fibers, once bunched up, will only get tighter and more deeply embedded you stretch them.  Which is why using the foam roll first can often provide a better solution that will speed up your recovery time.

Leigh and I have covered a variety of topics on the foam roll in the past.  Tonight, however, will cover 7 Tips for Beginners on the foam roll to help you get started.

  1.  Before using the foam roll, do some cardiovascular exercise to warm up your muscles and increase circulation.
  2. Your quadriceps, glutes, and calves will benefit most from this activity.  Warm-up. Do some foam rolling.  Workout. And then roll some more.  I will only add about 10 minutes total to your routine, and the benefits will be terrific.
  3. Avoid rolling directly over any joints.  Remember, this technique is for your muscles, not your joints.  By loosening your muscles, you will automatically relieve joint pain.
  4. Start slow!  The foam roll is totally uncomfortable and painful 100% of the time for beginners.  Trying to do too much too soon will turn you completely off on the whole idea and you will not stick with it for the long run.
  5. Find a qualified expert at your local gym to help guide you and to help you choose the best moves for YOU.
  6. Stick with it!  Most people try it once or twice, can’t deal with the discomfort and then NEVER go back to it again.
  7. There are varying levels of firm when it comes to a foam roll.  Look for the white ones that look and feel a little like styrofoam.  They are softer and will be easier to tolerate early on.

Remember, the benefits of stretching are many.  However, stretching as a first course of action for sore muscles that are bound up, and that contain lesions that need to be broken up is usually not the right choice.  Instead, warm-up, foam roll, workout, and then foam roll again.  And then foam roll again before you go to bed like I do.  It’s a terrific night time ritual that will leave you feeling relaxed, relieved and ready some some solid sack time.

Send me your questions: john(at)


aka “JohnnyT” or “The Fitness Nomad”

**This article was adapted from this article in Science Daily.  Ignore the title of the article.  It’s lame.  The content is really good.

Related articles:

  1. Is stretching really bad for me?
  2. Why Madison Men need to get fit and stay Healthy.
  3. How to keep your body in shape for running this summer – there are a couple of good foam roll moves in this video from a couple of years ago.



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