How Often Should You Foam Roll? (Based on science)


Foam rolling is a great technique that has a range of practical applications from improving range of motion, desensitizing painful spots, or down-regulating at the end of a long day. In this article, I will help you understand when is the best time to roll and how often should you foam roll?

As a general rule, you should foam roll every day for 10-15 minutes as a part of your down-regulating routine. Daily foam rolling (after your workout or in the evening) can improve your muscle suppleness, reduce soreness, and upregulate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax and sleep.

This means there are many ways to use a foam roller and the most important factor that will dictate how often should you do it is (1) your current problem and (2) what exactly do you want to achieve.

picture of a person rolling on the foam roller

Can I Foam Roll Every Day?

Generally, you can foam roll every day because daily foam rolling can be applied in several ways. It helps with recovery from workouts, increases muscle perfusion, reduces muscle tensions, destresses and relaxes, and helps to improve general proprioception of the body.

That’s a big mouthful so let me simplify. Foam rolling is like s swiss army knife.

Most of the time, people recognize foam rolling as a “warm-up” tool or “stretching” tool. However, there are so many useful applications where foam roller can be used.

And depending on what exactly you want to get from your routine, this will dictate what, and how often should you be foam rolling.

Here I’ve gathered some of the most beneficial uses of foam roller together with instruction on how often should you use them.

Related article: Foam Rolling: Why it hurts & How to make it less painful

Foam Rolling for Recovery

You can use the foam roller as your primary recovery tool. If you like running, CrossFit, weight training, spinning, soccer, or any type of workout, chances are that your muscles will get sore. Maybe your back feels stiff after heavy lifts or your calves get brutally tight from jumping and running.

Soreness in the muscles not only can ruin your performance but also can impact your willingness to train. Nobody likes to train when they’re sore.

Plus, feeling restricted and tight will have an impact on your form because it’s hard to pay attention to your knees or feet if all you feel is tension and DOMS.

How Often Should You Roll?

Here are some of the general recommendations for optimal use of your time with a foam roller.

Training typeHow often should you foam roll?
Strength trainingAfter each workout. Focus on the muscle groups that were predominately used. E.g. foam rolling legs after legs day.
Running, cycling, swimmingIn aerobic training, foam rolling can be done immediately after the training session and/or in the evening with an emphasis on the full body.
Basketball, soccer, ice hockey, baseball, footballIn the sport, foam rolling can be used immediately after the play and/or in the evening. Also, some studies recommend using foam roller day after the match (source).

In general, foam rolling (or any soft tissue work) stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest. This means it relaxes you and down-regulates all the fight or flight responses that you needed for a workout (source).

That’s why using the roller before your workout should be minimized. You want to use your warm-up to up-regulate your heart rate and prime your sympathetic nervous system. Doing the foam rolling before training does the exact opposite. It’s like going for a kickboxing class after having a massage.

PRO TIP: Use foam roller during the workout only when you feel your muscles are sore or they don’t allow you to get full range of motion. Leave the whole soft tissue work for after the training.

What does the research says?

Recent studies show that foam rolling is an effective intervention used to enhance recovery and performance (source).

In fact, in the last couple of years, there’s been more research done on foam rolling and how exactly it impacts the ability to recover from workouts.

In the study done by Dr.Guillaume Laffaye from South Ural State University in Russia, they compared 20 healthy men doing the high-intensity interval training (Tabata) and the impact of foam rolling on the DOMS (delay onset of muscle soreness) and the hip range of motion (source).

The protocol was to use a foam roller immediately after the workout for one leg only, the other leg being used as the control. 

The results after 48 hours showed that foam rolling decreased DOMS by 50%, comparing to 20% control.

Foam Rolling to Reduce Muscle Tension

Muscle tension can be the effect of several factors that are not even related to exercise. Too much work, having lots of physical and/or psychological stress, dehydration, poor nutrition hygiene, lack of sufficient sleep, injury, illness, or incorrect posture.

One of the most common features of foam rolling as a self-myofascial release technique is to increase the parasympathetic response, reduces the heart rate, and therefore, relax the whole body.

Activation of the parasympathetic response is also associated with the typical massage treatment. This means foam rolling can be used as a way to down-regulate after a long day.

How Often Should You Roll?

Depending on your current lifestyle, you can use foam rolling as a inexpensive way to self myofascial release (muscle tension release) as a part of your daily routine.

SituationHow often should you foam roll?
After workPlan to use foam roller for 10-15 minutes in the evening and gently cover whole body
De-stressPlan to roll for 10-20 minutes each evening. Muscles to focus on include neck, shoulders, lower back, hip flexors and quads.
Before sleepGently rolling with minimal pressure can kick start the parasympathetic system. It’s a great way to drop of to sleep
TravelingYou can use a small massage ball and roll your back, neck, and shoulder whenever you’re on the plane, bus, train, or doing any sort of long-distance traveling.

It’s good idea to have a variety of roller tools available because some of the muscle ares can be hardly reached with a regular foam roller. Foam roller is great to target global surface of the muscle (quads, lats, hip flexors, calves).

Some of the muscles (neck, shoulders, traps, chest) need more localized pressure. Here you can use tools like a massage balls or lacrosse balls. They help you reach those hard and narrow corners.

The smallest massage balls I’ve seen that are from the company called T Spheres. I used to work with these guys and they offer a range of small, portable and practical massage balls that can be used in the multiple ways.

Plus, I don’t know what they are made from but you can place them in the microwave and your massage ball turns into a hot stone that can get much deeper into the muscles.

You can check them out on the Amazon here.

PRO TIP: With the smaller diameter you will have a more localized point and therefore you will feel more pressure. A small lacrosse ball under your thigh will feel more intense than a large foam roller.

What does the research says?

A study done by Dr.Kanghoon Kim from the Catholic University of Pusan in Busan, South Korea experimented with a group of 24 females to compare foam rolling as a way to reduce stress and cortisol levels (source).

Group was divided into two sub-groups:

  • Group A (foam rolling)
  • Group B (resting group)

The study included initial 30 minutes walk on the treadmill, followed by:

  • Group A foam rolling for 30 minutes
  • Group B resting comfortably on the back for 30 minutes

The goal was to measure levels of cortisol levels (ng/ml) before and after sessions for each group.

The results showed that:

  • Group A reduced cortisol levels by 4.1 ng/ml
  • Group B reduced cortisol levels by 2.9 ng/ml

Foam Rolling to Improve Range Of Motion

One of the most popular ways to use a foam roller today is to increase the range of motion.

Sitting in an inefficient position for too long creates muscle restriction that impacts not only the performance but also decreases the breathing capacity, compromises diaphragm function, and dictates the pelvic floor alignment.

Plus, we experience pattern adaptation where the body starts to reshape into the position that we spend the most time in. The pattern becomes a habit. And that habits create a loop of being in a compromised position while exercising.

Foam rolling is a great and inexpensive way to identify inefficient movement patterns and daily self-maintenance, without the need of seeing the therapist.

How Often Should You Roll?

It really depends on few factors. Are you trying to restore, maintain or significantly improve your range of motion? Here are some of the basic guidelines.

SituationHow often should you foam roll?
Restore ROMUse roller in a small intermittent 10 minutes session 7 days a week
On your training days ideally after a workout.
On off days preferably in the evening time.
Maintain ROMOn training days after the workout.
Increase ROMDepending on the training, you can do foam rolling even multiple times a day for 10-15 minutes
Combine foam rolling with stretching

Restoring range of motion is beneficial for people who work long hours in one position and experience some biomechanical restriction. So whenever you wanna put the bra on or touch your toes and you feel stuck, adding a daily foam rolling routine can replace stretching.

Maintaining range of motion its more preventative habit. Simply add additional 5-10 minutes of foam rolling after each workout, or later on in the evening.

If you want to significantly increase your range of motion you need to spend more time, preferably every day, even twice a day. Limit your time to 15-20 minutes for each session. You can do foam rolling together with stretching for better and faster results.

Remember that things like your fitness level and age will play a role. People who are younger can respond better to a more regular rolling routine and be more consistent. Older people may need a day or two rest in between for the tissues to adapt.

PRO TIP: Best results will give you a combination of stretching and foam rolling, however, always make sure to have a decent warm-up before you do this type of work. There is no need to warm up before foam rolling only, but once you add stretching, you don’t wanna do it cold.

What does the research says?

A lot of research is popping out documenting that soft tissue work and foam rolling is a much better way to increase range of motion than stretching. In fact, one study specifically looked at foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic stretching to find the best bank for the buck.

A study done by Dr.Hsuan-Jung SU from the National Taiwan University in Taipei compared 30 college students and examine the acute effects of foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic stretching (source).

Some of the changes in the range of motion included the sit and reach test and modified Thomas test.

Modified Thomas test is a way to assess a range of motion. It works by laying down on the edge of the table bed with both legs handing. Then, by flexing the knee, a person brings one leg close to the chest.

Here’s what they found out for the modified Thomas test.

Modified Thomas testDegrees
Foam rolling11.17
Static stretching6.67
Dynamic stretching2.73

As you can see, compared to static stretching, foam rolling did almost twice as much, and compared to dynamic stretching, it went almost 5 fold.

Sit and reach test is another flexibility test there you sit on the ground and reach to the box with a ruler that can measure in cm how far you get. This test measures your flexibility in the lower back and hamstrings, and is the most commonly used in the health and fitness industry.

Here’s what they found out for the sit and reach test.

Sit and reach testCm
Foam rolling3.88
Static stretching1.99
Dynamic stretching2.10

With the sit and reach test, foam rolling almost doubled both the static and dynamic stretching results.

Can You Foam Roll Too Much?

You know that you’re foam rolling too much once you stop noticing any difference, or you start to feel more discomfort. You should use a foam roller until you make the change, or until you stop making the change. And once you’re not making any more progress, it’s time to step back.

In other words, you don’t want to spend 1-2 hours once a week to go all out. It is much better to do small daily check-ins as a part of your daily routine, depending on your goals and how much pressure you can take. Almost like a ritual.

How Long Should I Foam Roll?

Ideally, you should spend between 10-20 minutes on your foam roller for the best results. Your time will depend on how much pressure you can handle, how much tension you have in the muscles, and how consistent you’re with foam rolling.

I can tell you from my own experience that in the beginning I felt really uncomfortable. I used to do a lot of HIIT workout with plyometrics that put a lot of pressure on my hip flexors, calves and quads.

However, after the first couple of weeks, my muscle tension went away and the discomfort was gone. After that, I started to enjoy foam rolling and have been doing it ever since.

Conclusion

Foam rolling is a great tool that can be used from the many different angles from mobility improvement, stress reduction or simply as a preventative way to keep our muscles and joints healthy.

One of the flaws of the current health care model is that we don’t look out for help until we experience the pain or some other red flags. Doing a daily dose of foam rolling in a controlled and mindful way is an excellent way to stay away from troubles and maintain sufficient movement.

Using the foam roller daily, specifically after the workouts, or in the evening, can help you to recover faster and down-regulate at the end of the long day.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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