Sports Med Insights: Foam Rolling vs Stretching

Summary Courtesy of Strength and Conditioning Research Review

Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip Flexion Range of Motion.

Mohr, Long and Goad, in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 2014

What is the background?

Traditionally, flexibility has primarily been improved through static stretching. However, static stretching may be undesirable to perform for athletes, as it has been found to lead to acute reductions in power outputs and sports performances. Foam rolling has been proposed as an alternative method to improve flexibility that does not appear to lead to reduced sports performance.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers compared the change in passive hip flexion range-of-motion following 6 consecutive days separated by >48 hours of either static stretching or foam rolling of the hamstrings muscle group in 40 recreationally active young adults. The subjects were randomly allocated into static stretching, foam rolling, combined, or control groups. The stretching condition involved 3 consecutive passive stretches of 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between them. The foam rolling condition involved the subjects sitting on the foam roller while it was placed on the floor, supporting their bodyweight with as much pressure on the hamstring muscle as possible, and moving the foam roller at a cadence of 1-second in each direction for 3 sets of 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest in between rolling bouts. The subjects who were assigned to the combined group performed both protocols.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that there was a significant improvement in passive hip flexion range-of-motion in all training groups. However, they also found that the subjects who were assigned to the combined group displayed a greater change in passive hip flexion range-of-motion compared to the other groups but there were no significant differences between the other groups. They therefore concluded that foam rolling can lead to the same significant improvements in hip flexion range of motion as passive static stretching.

What are the practical implications?

This study provides support for the use of foam rollers as an alternative means of improving flexibility.

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