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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Effects of Foam Rolling on Subjective Post Workout Muscle Fatigue

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Research Review: Effects of foam rolling on subjective post workout muscle fatigue

By Stefanie DiCarrado DPT, PT, NASM CPT & CES

Edited by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

Original Citation: Healey, K.C., Hatfield, D.L., Blanpied, P., Dorfman, L.R., and Riebe, D. (2014). The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(1). 61–68 - ABSTRACT

Gluteus Minimus Release - http://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/online-courses/online-courses/server5800/b15e2/product_images/theme_images/shop_homepage_hailey_mobility.jpg?t=1433973297

Why is this relevant?: Foam rolling has gained popularity for both pre-activity preparation and rehabilitation. It has been compared to massage and static trigger point release, but the actual mechanism and affect foam rolling has on rehab and performance has not been well studied. Some have theorized that the effect foam rolling has on performance is actually due to the isometric muscle contractions required to hold various positions while foam rolling, and not the pressure exerted by the foam roll itself. This study compared isometric holds in the form of planks versus external pressure exerted by a foam roll on commonly targeted muscle groups, and noted the effects on fatigue and performance.

Study Summary

Study DesignRandomized Cross Over Design
Level of EvidenceIb: Evidence from at least one randomized controlled trial
Subject Demographics
  • Age: 21.56 + 2.04 years old
  • Gender: 13 males, 13 females
  • Characteristics: individuals participating in activity 3-4 x per week for previous 6 months
    • Height (cm)
      • females: 164.76 + 6.54; males 176.23 + 6.00

    • Weight (kg)
      • females: 65.32 + 13.23; males 74.1 + 9.51

  • Inclusion Criteria: N/A
  • Exclusion Criteria: history of bone, muscle (including tendon), or ligament injury
Outcome Measures
  • Subjective Soreness Measures
    • Palpation Rating Scale (higher = more soreness)
    • Overall Soreness Scale (higher = more soreness)

  • Subjective Fatigue Measures
    • Borg CR-10 (higher = more fatigue)
    • Overall Fatigue Scale (higher = more fatigue)

  • Performance Measures
    • Isometric Force (squat)
    • Vertical Jump Measurement
    • Agility

  • Subjective Soreness Measures
    • Significant increases in both control and experimental group

  • Subjective Fatigue Measures
    • Significantly less fatigue in experimental group

  • Performance Measures
    • No significant difference between foam rolling group and planking group

ConclusionsFoam rolling may reduce feelings of post-exercise fatigue. The mechanism of this affect is still unknown, however, it would appear that it is related to the pressure exerted by the foam roll itself and not to the positions held while foam rolling. Reducing fatigue may allow for larger bouts, or more frequent bouts of activity, which may have a positive impact on performance.Note: foam rolling alone had no affect on performance.
Conclusions of the ResearchersPost-exercise fatigue after foam rolling was significantly less than after the subjects performed planking (p # 0.05). The reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements. However, foam rolling had no effect on performance.

Trigger Point Roll - http://circusconditioning.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/lebron.jpg

Review & Commentary: This study is unique in that it compares foam rolling to isometric activity (planks ) commonly used in core conditioning/strengthening routines . Some have theorized that an increase in muscle temperature and blood flow from simply holding the positions required to perform these techniques is the mechanism by which foam rolling achieves benefits, and the same benefits could be achieved by performing other core activities without the addition of a foam roll. Subjects in this study, performed specific athletic performance measures on two separate days, 5 days apart, following two separate warm up conditions (foam rolling vs planking ), the order of which was randomized. Under the experimental condition, subjects foam rolled the quadriceps , hamstrings , gastrocnemii , latissimus dorsi , and the rhomboids for 30 seconds. On the alternate day, the same subjects performed light planking, in similar positions and for a similar amount of time as they foam rolled.

A significant strength of this study is the attempt to standardize the methodology used and limit confounding variables. Subjects were asked to maintain a food diary to ensure no major dietary changes for at least the 48 hours before each testing session. They were also asked to avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, intense physical activity, and were not to use pain relievers or analgesic medication for the duration of the study. Testing occurred at the same location with the same investigators present each time. Investigators provided verbal encouragement and cuing to maintain consistency in subjects reactions. Testing took place at the same time during the day on each day. Prior to foam rolling or planking, each subject performed the same dynamic warm up (5 repetitions on each leg): walking lunges, walking knee to chest, side squats, walking butt kicks, "frankensteins," and "penny pickers". The authors took care to choose a foam roller based upon previous research, in particular a study by Curran et al. was used to find a foam roller that maintained its shape under body weight (1). The researchers described each performance measure in detail allowing for future studies to reproduce their methods and provided ample citations of the validity of those measures..

This study is not without limitations. An unfortunate trend within mobility/flexibility research is the lack of assessment/evaluation for each subject, and the design of a specific intervention using the test modality based on those assessment/evaluation findings. This study selected subjects of convenience, and examined the affect of a pre-constructed foam rolling routine. This leaves unanswered questions regarding the "true" potential foam rolling may have to enhance performance, pain and fatigue if tailored to an individual's dysfunction. Relative to the routine used in this study, if the majority of the subjects did not demonstrate significant lumbo pelvic hip dysfunction (LPHCD) or lower leg dysfunction (LLD), or if their dysfunction was related largely to joint dyskinesis in addition to-, or instead of muscle imbalance the affect of the protocol may be significantly blunted. Further study is needed, adding assessment to the research methodology.

Further, most human movement professionals do not use foam rolling alone, and the affect this modality has on mobility and performance may best be achieved when paired with other modalities. For example, in a study by Mohr et al. , foam rolling and stretching was found to be more effective for increasing mobility than foam rolling alone (2) .

Another limitation could pertain to the performance measures selected, as additional training may be required to see an increase in power output (For example, a better study may be to compare 6 weeks of training with and with out foam rolling). Or, it may be that power is the wrong variable to measure all together, and that the intent to change muscle activity and enhance muscle balance should result in better quality of motion that would best be measured by variables such as the amount of of knee valgus or forward lean during a vertical jump.

Last, a weakness of all foam rolling research to date is the lack of a consistent foam rolling protocol. In this study foam rolling was done by:

  • "…rolled the foam cylinder from the top of the selected area to the bottom and then returning to the starting position and performed this action for 30 seconds for each muscle group."

Despite this study being successful in reducing feeling of fatigue, it is my opinion that better results may have been seen if pressure was applied to the most tender area, at or around common points of trigger point development, and held statically until a release or reduction in discomfort was noted. Obviously these are drastically different approaches to using this modality and research is needed comparing commonly used protocols.

Why is this study important?

This study is important because it demonstrates that the impact of foam rolling is not due to the positions held while foam rolling, but likely the pressure exerted by the foam roll itself. Further, the reduction in feelings of fatigue may imply that foam rolling is an effective recovery aid. Despite not having a direct impact on performance, enhancing recovery may lead to longer more frequent bouts of activity that enhance progress over time.

How does it affect practice?

Although no acute increases in performance were noted related to foam rolling, the decreased perception of fatigue could lead to greater training volumes and performance enhancement over the course of weeks, months or years. Recovery is an often forgotten, but essential part of performance enhancement training. The addition of foam rolling as part of a warm-up, or potentially cool down and home exercise programs is worth exploration in practice.

How does it relate to Brookbush Institute Content?

The Brookbush Institute supports the use of self administered release techniques through the use of foam rollers, softballs, and even baseballs as a means of addressing altered activity (tone/neural drive) in those muscles that are assessed as over-active. The Brookbush Institute promotes static positioning of the foam roller to relieve trigger points and adhesions rather than rolling back-and-forth as indicated in this study. Further, as supported by the Mohr et al. study the Brookbush Institute follows the release of over-active structures by flexibility techniques (2) (joint mobilization techniques when indicated), and follows mobility techniques with techniques to increase muscle activity and intermuscular coordination . All techniques used to address muscle activity, length and recruitment are chosen based on a thorough movement assessment .

Upper Body Dysfunction (UBD) Release Techniques

Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex Dysfunction (LPHCD) Release Techniques

Lower Leg Dysfunction (LLD) Release Techniques


1. Curran, PF, Fiore, RD, and Crisco, JJ. A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation. 17: 432-442, 2008.

2. Mohr, A. R., Long, B. C., & Goad, C. L. (forthcoming 2014). Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip Flexion Range of Motion. Journal of sport rehabilitation. Currently in press.

© 2015 Brent Brookbush

Questions, comments, and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged -