Foam rolling is one of those physical activities that, if you like it, you're on your way to loving it.
The benefits of foam rolling are plentiful: A regular rolling routine not only provides an immediate release from tension and soreness after a grueling workout, but it may also promote mobility, flexibility and overall fitness gains, explains David J. Berkoff, MD, a fellow at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) and professor of orthopedics at UNC Chapel Hill.
And once you figure out proper foam rolling technique — and what level of pressure is right for your muscles — it just feels amazing. (If you find foam rolling uncomfortable, lighten up the intensity, focus on breathing and stick with your practice. It's about to get so good.)
So if you've got the rolling bug, you may be tempted to do it every day, if not multiple times per day. But when it comes to foam rolling, can you have too much of a good thing?
Here's what you can expect from making this tension-relieving technique a daily habit.
Your Performance Will Get a Boost
Foam rolling, a form of self-myofascial release, can have a positive effect on your range of motion as well as your overall athleticism, such as speed, agility and strength — but that's not where its performance advantages end, says Brian D. Giordano, MD, associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
He explains that foam rolling helps lay the foundation for optimal athletic performance: In order for a muscle to function (say, twitch, contract or stretch) to the best of its ability, it requires a healthy environment. If it's surrounded by fibrous scar tissue, which can accumulate as a result of injuries or overuse, it just isn't going to perform at its peak. Fortunately, foam rolling can help break down that scar tissue to help things work their best.
In fact, in a small July 2014 study in the International Journal of Exercise Science, researchers compared the performance benefits of doing a dynamic warm-up versus a dynamic warm-up along with foam rolling. They found that adding foam rolling to the mix improves power, agility, strength and speed better than doing a dynamic warm-up alone.
Dr. Giordano describes foam rolling as a "preparatory tool" that can help ensure you don't develop muscle imbalances. That's important since most of us use our bodies in somewhat asymmetrical ways.
"Whether we play a ball sport, racquet sport or an endurance sport, all these things create differences in the ways we utilize our muscle groups," he explains. "We're always going to have body areas that are tighter, looser, more overloaded [or] less frequently utilized." Foam rolling can help counteract those imbalances, which allows for more fluid, coordinated muscular movement.
Maintaining and caring for those muscular functions are key to a healthy, active life. And you can see the benefits of foam rolling whether you roll for five minutes once a day or for five minutes four times a day, he says. Either way, consistency is key.
Your Flexibility Will Improve
According to Dr. Giordano, regular foam rolling can improve muscle flexibility in people with even the tightest, most rigid and knotted muscles. Dr. Berkoff explains that rolling helps reduce muscle tension, keeping the muscles more pliant and, ultimately, more flexible.
Research backs this up: In a November 2015 systematic review published in The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, researchers found that foam rolling significantly improves people's scores at the sit-and-reach flexibility test. Researchers explain that's because rolling stimulates blood flow to the body's muscles while breaking down tight scar tissue, encouraging a greater range of motion in the process.
For the greatest effects, Dr. Berkoff recommends foam rolling prior to exercising (in order to promote blood flow to targeted muscle groups), then doing a combination of stretching and foam rolling during recovery sessions. But integrating the practice into your regular routine is a must if you hope to see sustained results.
"If you only do it once in a while, that immediate benefit quickly goes away," Dr. Giordano says, alluding to the relief people tend to feel in the moment of foam rolling. "Sometimes, it can take a more repetitive or predictable routine to get the cumulative benefit." Some people, Dr. Giordano says, even come to view foam rolling as a flat-out requirement for optimal physical performance.
Your Muscles May Recover Faster
Dr. Berkoff likens foam rolling to self-massage in the sense that it can speed up the body's recovery after strenuous activity. By applying pressure and friction to the muscles that were engaged in intense exercise, foam rolling breaks up knots and reduces stiffness, he explains.
For example, a small January 2015 study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling helps reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the pain, tightness and loss of muscle strength that can occur in the days after an especially difficult workout.
Again, foam rolling promotes blood flow, which helps your body process chemical byproducts of exercising. Dr. Giordano explains that, when these byproducts build up within the muscle, they can create a caustic environment, which can manifest as soreness.
Metabolic byproducts aren't the only contributor to DOMS (Dr. Berkoff lists inflammation and connective tissue damage as other key factors), but this is why those who foam roll will likely experience less DOMS than those who don't.
All of this amounts to feeling less worn out and achy in the wake of your workout, providing you make foam rolling a fixture in your everyday cool-down routine.
While anyone who's generally active will enjoy these effects, Dr. Giordano says the post-workout benefits of foam rolling are especially strong for people in the midst of an intense training regimen — say, marathoners, triathletes or endurance athletes. After all, their bodies are already in a state of constant repair and recovery. Foam rolling every day can help move that process along.
If you're battling an acute injury or are living with conditions such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis or thrombosis, talk to your physical therapist or doctor before starting foam rolling.
Your Stress Levels Might Decrease
Aside from the athletic benefits of foam rolling on a regular basis, Dr. Giordano notes that there are general lifestyle advantages to it, too. "Everybody is at war with their bodies every day," he says, whether from hunching over a desk for hours at a time or performing repetitive manual labor.
And that war doesn't stop at poor posture and physical stress — it also encompasses the ways in which emotional stress and turmoil manifest in the body.
Many people tend to hold tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back, which can compound already subpar posture. "This mind-body connection is extremely powerful," Dr. Giordano says, explaining that it's important to have something in your wellness routine that mitigates this stress and the discomfort that comes with it.
Foam rolling, given its cumulative effect on stiffness, soreness and mobility issues, is a great option to alleviate those unpleasant feelings, he says, comparing it to regularly changing the oil in your car: It's one of several factors that will contribute to your body running smoothly.
Beyond that, Dr. Giordano says that direct pressure — the kind that you experience while foam rolling — has been shown to stimulate the release of positive brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These chemicals, in combination with the slow, deep breathing during self-myofascial release, can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). As a result, heart rate slows, hormones calm and the body's stress levels lighten.
Between this direct mind-body effect and the fact that really any sort of soothing, steady routine can cultivate a sense of peace and alleviate anxiety, it stands to reason that your everyday stress levels could benefit from daily foam rolling, too.
In short, Dr. Berkoff and Dr. Giordano don't see any inherent risks to foam rolling every day. In fact, it may be the best way to reap the most benefits of foam rolling, period.
"Foam rolling daily is safe, and for people who exercise regularly, it is probably a good idea," Dr. Berkoff says, adding that "there is no consensus on how often, how long and how hard to foam roll."
Dr. Giordano echoes this, saying that if a patient were to tell him they had established a routine in which they foam rolled every day, he'd take that as a sign they're aware of their body's needs and dedicated to their overall wellness.
With that in mind, your exact routine will depend on your individual physiological needs: Do you want to use foam rolling as a preparatory tool or as a recovery method? Do you want to alleviate tightness or do you want to see long-term improvements to your flexibility?
Ultimately, it's always better to listen to your body than it is to adhere to a rigid schedule. "If [foam rolling] is creating more soreness, more pain and more stiffness, it's definitely something to reconsider," Dr. Giordano says, adding that you should also avoid foam rolling over a recent injury, as that could just exacerbate it and prolong your healing time.
So, if you've made a daily habit of foam rolling, by all means, keep it up — just watch out for pain points.
- The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "The Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roll or Roller Massager on Joint Range of Motion, Muscle Recovery, and Performance: A Systematic Review"
- International Journal of Exercise Science: "An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in the Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing"
- Journal of Athletic Training: "Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "What Do Foam Rollers Do?"