Like stretching, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the use and efficacy of foam rolling as a fitness tool.
So, what exactly does foam rolling do?
Before a workout, foam rolling can:
TEMPORARILY inhibit a muscle by stimulating an autogenic inhibition of the rolled muscle. That means, for a short period of time, the muscle being rolled will be “on vacation”, allowing fo the more effective strengthening of the surrounding and opposing muscles. So, for this cause, roll your OVERACATIVE, shortened muscle.
Break up surface level adhesion (scar tissue) allowing greater extensibility (stretch) and contractability (shortening). Again, this is a reflexive response, giving you a relatively short amount of time to enjoy the greater function of the muscle.
For these benefits, it is important to know that foam rolling should really be called foam smashing. When you roll onto a spot of discomfort, the idea is to pause on that spot for 30-60 seconds EACH for the desired inhibition to take effect.
After a workout, foam rolling can:
Relax shortened muscle tissue.
Increase circulation to the tissue.
Increase venous and lymphatic drainage,
AKA make you feel good.
Something to remember, foam rolling as a corrective exercise tool is NOT AN END IN ITSELF. It is a necessary step in helping the ensuing strengthening exercises work better.
Foam rolling causes changes in the muscle tissue that are REFLEXIVE, aka TEMPORARY. Its your strengthening exercises that really do the correcting.
If you are foam rolling to “release” muscle tissue and trigger points, you’re largely wasting your time. Do yourself a favor and find a good soft tissue professional. You’ll notice a huge difference in your range of motion and strength.