LUKA KOVACEVIC: Foam roller before explosive moves/training, yes or no?
DR. JOHN RUSIN: Foam rolling clearly has benefits in terms of local and systemic recovery by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system and the other mechanisms of recovery, but when it comes to aiding global movement in a pre-training routine, foam rolling is a very small part of the entire functional equation in terms of physical preparation for performance.
Foam rolling is best performed after workouts as a recovery method (best performed after training or even the next day – stop using it as a pre-workout ritual). It crept into warm-ups when trainers made the false association between foam rolling and enhanced mobility before workouts. Foam rolling isn’t going to boost performance.
It won’t do much for your strength, endurance, flexibility, or mobility. Yes, some people have perceived benefit from foam rolling in terms of those training metrics, but you must ask: were those gains made solely due to self-directed soft tissue practice, or are there other contributing factors causing positive outcomes?
For most athletes, there are significant levels of local inflammation, delayed onset muscle soreness, and increased neurological tone in the tissues. So it makes sense to target soft tissues that have been trained earlier in the day or the day before. Rolling helps drive blood into local areas, which allows nutrient exchange and waste to be cleared out.
The only time where foam rolling is warranted in the warm-up is when there’s notable mobility dysfunction present. That means that dysfunction has been evaluated and diagnosed, and part of the course of remediation involves SMR techniques as a means to improve positions. For everyone else who’s considered a functional mover and doesn’t present with pain, there’s little to no need for hitting the foam roller before training.
Though traditional self-myofascial release techniques like foam rolling play a minor role in preparing you for a workout, these techniques are a highly effective way to recover AFTER lifting. From limiting delayed onset muscle soreness to aiding in lymphatic drainage, rolling may just be the quickest and easiest way to get the recovery process going (extended duration foam rolling sessions that target specific tissues for a few minutes will help stimulate the active muscle pump of the body, clear out inflammation and lymphatic pooling, and tap into the neural recovery system by reducing local tone of the tissues). In your post-training window (5-15 minutes after training), address the soft tissues that were the most active during that day’s workout. For example, if you hit legs, then your post-workout rolling should focus on the muscles of the legs. It’s not rocket science, but here’s where it gets interesting. If you foam roll before you train, pick a targeted problem area that you’re working to remediate. However, it’s the opposite for sparking recovery. The recovery window is the time to work entire tissues, spend time on multiple segments, and really “waste” some time down on the floor addressing every aspect of the region.
Dr. John Rusin is one of the leading pioneers in the development and implementation of the hybrid model of strength and conditioning based physical therapists in the fitness industry and rehabilitative based medical communities worldwide.