The foam roller is an excellent device for aiding the recovery process after a training session - it does a great job of helping weary muscles to recover and return to their normal function.
Training and recovery go hand in hand, yet they are not always treated as being equally important. The fact is they most definitely should be because they are two sides of the same coin.
You should never train without a period of recovery. If you don't allow for proper recovery time and recovery work between training sessions, you run the risk of over-training.
Overtraining is defined as a behavioural, physical or emotional condition which occurs whenever the intensity and volume of a person's exercise exceeds their capacity to recover. The person will stop making progress and may even start to lose their fitness and strength. You will come across instances of overtraining in many areas of physical and sporting activity including running, athletics and weight training.
Foam roller massage has a key part to play when it comes to getting the right balance between training and recovery. Deep-tissue massage with a roller falls into the recovery category, because long, healthy and smooth muscles will recover faster.
It is important to develop you own recovery workout using your foam roller - this should ideally consist of a warm up period, the roller routine itself, followed by a stretching routine and finally a dynamic mobility routine.
The net result on your body of a workout with a roller is more of a recovery effect than a training effect, so you can do it every day. Recovery work can be performed as often as you want, but training should only be repeated once your body has recovered from your most recent training session, otherwise you will risk overtraining. Complete days-off are still very important every from time to time because rest is also a crucial recovery mechanism.
A rolling session can prove very rewarding when it comes to reducing the effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). If left untreated DOMS can leave fitness enthusiasts and athletes with noticeably reduced mobility. Foam rolling can help get to grips with DOMS and assist sore or painful muscles to recover and return to their normal resting length.
Controlled studies have looked into DOMS and foam rolling. One study in 2015, which examined foam rolling and neuromuscular performance for up to 72 hours post-DOMS, showed that a group of people using a roller recorded a reduction in muscle soreness and an increase in flexibility, vertical jump height and voluntary muscle activation.
Many fitness regimens are best described as 'chronic cardio' - these are the type of fitness programmes where men and women raise their heart rates up really high, many times per week, in their sessions at their local health club or at home. Often these people put no focus on recovery at all. A case can be put that it is much wiser, if you want to cardio-train, to do it sparingly after your recovery work. There is a growing forum of opinion in the health and fitness fraternity that intense cardio work outs can do you more harm than good.
Recovery and mobility work, when performed consistently, over a long period of months or years can produce incredible results - it certainly has the potential to make you feel much healthier, fitter and feel fundamentally better.
Becoming more mobile and strong through a regular training and recovery programme is likely to beat a 'chronic cardio' fitness routine any day. Running by itself, for example, will only make your muscles tighter and more prone to injury.
You can actually get better at running, not by running alone, but by fundamentally changing the way you move. When you can be mobile and strong, while maintaining good posture and a strong core throughout functional movement exercises, you will ultimately be stronger and more injury-resistant during any activity.
Then, when it's time to do a little training in the build-up to a major physical event - a half-marathon or marathon, for example - you will be adding fitness on top of a body that can perform solid functional movement. Simply 'running more' is actually a quick way for your abilities to plateau.
Renowned physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook stressed that you can’t lay fitness on top of dysfunction and then hope for good results. Wise words indeed - laying fitness on top of dysfunction is like putting a bigger engine in a car that isn't built to the specifications required for that particular engine - the car won't be more powerful and go faster. All that will happen is that the car will break down even earlier than it was already going to.
If you are able to focus more on recovery and less on training, you'll be far better off in the end. If you commit to regular foam roller massage and other recovery work for a long time, you'll be setting yourself up for years of strong, fluid, functional, injury-free movement.