Those little rolling cylinders of death. I hate them. And yes, okay, they make my lower back feel marginally better (even if it’s just for five minutes), but it’s because over everything, the thing I hate most is being ripped off. Or sold something I don’t need. Or sold a fact that isn’t true.
Enter foam rollers. Loved by bad personal trainers and yoga enthusiasts alike – foam rollers are pretty common place in the workout sphere. Smooth ones, ribbed ones, fat ones, thin ones – they spread misinformation in all ways, shapes, and sizes, and do absolutely nothing for you.
They first came into power (talking like foam rollers are a person of government such as Boris Johnson, who coincidentally also does nothing) in the 1920’s, when a guy named Moshé Feldenkrais wanted to improve body performance and muscle pain by increasing self-awareness of the body. Fair enough. This is actually a founded idea, and we know through current research that even when working out, if you’re actively focusing on the muscle you want to work out, it improves the intensity of your exercise.
However, in modern society, the thinking about foam rollers has changed to a falsity, which is that using a foam roller will help you stretch your muscles, improve the appearance of cellulite, aid in muscle recovery, and stretch out fascia, therefore release tight muscles.
This is just plain wrong, and here’s why:
If you don’t know what fascia is, it’s a super-strong fibrous mesh that coats your bones, muscles, blood vessels, and organs. Foam rolling intends to loosen deep fascia, the one that surrounds bones and muscles. However, deep fascia is extremely strong – think of the back side of pork ribs that you have to tug the membrane off before you cook – and studies have shown that it withstands a similar amount of pressure to that of literal steel. The average number floating around is that the pressure capability of fascia per square inch is 2 tons per square inch – yes, that’s right, ONE THOUSAND KILOS PER 2.5CM – but studies show that the force needed to “release” the ITB (the band on the outside of your thigh that is normally foam rolled) actually withstands 8 tons per square inch.
You really think rolling yourself along a piece of foam on the floor is going to cause 8000kg of pressure? Yeah, right. And I’m not sure you would even want to anyway – that sounds pretty painful to me. Fascia has enough nerves to make it as sensitive as skin; I don’t think we would enjoy 8000kgs pulling it apart. Also, it’s there to make sure we aren’t just an organ slushy inside – it keeps everything where it needs to be.
Foam rolling may make your sore back feel better from working on a shitty chair all day from home, but it is not going to actually help you in the long term. Clinically, there is no solid evidence that foam rolling (or self-myofascial release) helps release tight muscles or aids in muscle recovery in the long term – essentially, it just offers a better superficial feeling the hour of.
So, if foam rolling makes your back feel better after sitting in your work chair, by all means, foam roll your back. But what that tells me, is that A) you’re not moving enough (anybody would be sore in any position for too long and B) you may need to strengthen your back to allow your muscles to hold up your body for longer stretches of time.
Foam rollers make you feel better in the short term, but don’t trust anyone who tells you that foam rolling needs to be an integral part of your workout routine, because it doesn’t! Of course, stretch after a workout, but thinking you’re going to stretch out your fascia with a little foam cylinder? No thanks, move on.
Feature image via Wonderland Autumn 2017