WHAT: Foam rollers are often used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts as a form of self-myofascial release, a technique used to ease muscular tension prior to exercise or as a means of recovery. To uncover the benefits of this practice, American Council on Exercise (ACE) commissioned a scientific study to evaluate the effectiveness of foam rolling on flexibility, mobility and athletic performance.

WHY: The research findings on this form of self-myofascial release—a technique that applies pressure to tight or stiff areas of the body in an attempt to relieve tension and improve flexibility—have been inconclusive or very narrow. According to authors of this ACE study, no standard protocol for foam rolling exists, so when trying to draw conclusions by looking at the results of multiple studies, it’s often a case of comparing apples to oranges. This ACE study aims to bring clarity to the topic by evaluating the training effects on a person’s lower-body flexibility and mobility, as well as performance.

THE STUDY: ACE enlisted John P. Porcari, Ph.D., and his research team in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse to evaluate the training effects of foam rolling on lower-body flexibility and mobility and performance.

The research team recruited 34 volunteers to participate in the study, who were placed into either the foam rolling group or a control group. In addition to height and weight, the following baseline data were collected during the initial session after a five-minute warm-up:

  • Ankle and knee range of motion
  • Hamstrings flexibility
  • Vertical jump height
  • Agility

The foam rolling group participated in instructor-led sessions three days per week for six weeks. Each session consisted of foam rolling the lower back, buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and iliotibial bands. Each body part was foam rolled for 20 seconds and the entire sequence was repeated three times – each session lasting approximately 15 minutes. After the six weeks, all participants were reevaluated using the same testing procedures used prior to the beginning of the study.

RESULTS: The foam rolling group had a statistically significant increase in sit-and-reach distance from pre- to post-testing, which was also statistically greater than the change in the control group. It was reported anecdotally that the foam rolling group felt more flexible and felt like they could jump higher at the conclusion of the study. In addition, foam rolling did not negatively affect athletic performance, as measured by agility or vertical jump height.

While the study also compared results of knee range of motion, vertical jump and time of a simple running test (T-test), neither group showed significant changes. Results from ankle range of motion were inconclusive, as both groups had statistically significant improvements in ankle range of motion over the course of the study.

BOTTOM LINE: This research found that for the participants in this study, foam rolling as a form of self-myofascial release significantly improved flexibility and did not negatively affect athletic performance. For personal trainers, foam rolling may be a solid practice to incorporate before and after workout sessions to improve a client’s overall athletic performance and flexibility overtime.

QUOTE: “Foam rolling allowed study participants to increase flexibility and feel more mobile, without any negative impact on agility or vertical jump performance,” said Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, president and chief science officer for American Council on Exercise. “This has important implications because unlike static stretching before a workout which is associated with a decrease in measures of physical performance, pre-workout foam rolling appears to reduce muscle tightness while not impairing subsequent physical performance.”

Additional Details and Contact

Organization: American Council on Exercise

Research partners: John P. Porcari, PhD, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse

Interviews available: To coordinate interviews with ACE experts and scientists, contact Shannon@gomixte.com

Link to study: Foam Rolling Study

About American Council on Exercise

The American Council on Exercise is a nonprofit organization with global reach that works to improve physical-activity levels by certifying exercise professionals and health coaches, publishing original research, convening experts on physical activity health, working directly with community groups, and advocating for policies to get people from all walks of life moving. The 90,000 exercise professionals and health coaches certified by ACE are among the most respected in the world of fitness, helping people embrace physical activity and adopt healthier lifestyles. For more information, call 800-825-3636 or visit ACEfitness.org. AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE, ACE and ACE logos are Registered Trademarks of the American Council on Exercise.