It's easy to forget how important flexibility is. Usually it isn’t until we bend over to tie our shoes that we realize that we are not flexible at all.
The bad news is that flexibility isn’t just caused by shortened muscles, but can also be due to restriction of the fascia surrounding a muscle, or between neighboring muscles.
So, how to combat decreased flexibility and joint movement: foam rolling (self-myofascial release) or static stretching?
How Do Foam Rolling and Static Stretching Affect Range of Motion?
You first need to understand what can cause shortened muscles and restricted fascia.
Shortened muscles are caused when a muscle is held in a shortened position for a prolonged period of time. The shortened muscles now decrease a joint's range of motion. Think about sitting at a desk for 4-6 hours a day, keeping your knees bent, both your hamstrings and hip flexor (iliacus and psoas muscle) will shorten over time.
Fascial restriction can decrease flexibility because fascia will become adhered to other muscles, losing its elastic property and ability to glide between past neighboring muscles. (This can also be a factor in muscle knots. For more info on knots & how to get rid of them, check out this post!)
Foam Rolling vs Static Stretching: Benefits & Drawbacks
Benefits of Foam Rolling
- Effective for improving short term joint range of motion.
- Enhances muscle performance before exercise because it increases blood flow to muscles and breaks up restriction in muscles and fascia.
- Improves recovery after exercises and decreases symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Drawbacks of Foam Rolling
- Short-term improvement in flexibility that ranges only from 90 minutes up to 3 days.
- Uses pressure from bodyweight on the foam roller against the floor, which can be a difficult position for someone to get into.
- Hand rollers can be used, but rely on arm strength for force, which is about 25% as much force as traditional foam rolling.
Benefits of Static Stretching
- Improves joint range of motion for a longer period of time.
- Stretching for 5 days for 10 minutes will improve flexibility for a week after.
- Improves length-tension relationship necessary for optimal muscle contraction.
Drawbacks of Static Stretching
- Requires low intensity for longer period of time.
- Muscles do not stretch well when they are “cold” (it can also increase the chance of injury!), and require a warm up for maximal benefit.
Evidence shows that performing both foam rolling and static stretching together have the best outcome for flexibility when compared to only performing one or the other.
How to Incorporate Foam Rolling and Static Stretching into Your Workout Routine
- Warm up for 10 to 25 minutes prior to stretching or foam rolling (see warm up article).
- Focus stretching and foam rolling on muscles that will be used during your work out.
- Perform foam rolling prior to working out to improve fascial mobility and prime muscles for work out.
- Perform static stretching after cool down period.
How to Foam Roll
- Work a muscle or muscle group by rolling back and forth for 30 seconds to 60 seconds, or about 10 – 20 passes.
- Avoid going over any joints or bony areas because you could irritate bursa or tendons that attach to those areas.
- Perform for 5-15 minutes in total.
- Should be performed daily.
How to Perform Static Stretching
- Hold stretch at a low intensity (should only cause slight discomfort) for 15 - 30 seconds, perform a total of 3-5 reps of each stretch.
- Should be performed daily.
NovaCare has a long commitment to personalized, quality physical therapy in Chicago and has office locations in the FFC Halsted Street, Lincoln Park, Oak Park, South Loop, Union Station, and West Loop Club locations. NovaCare provides everything from complimentary injury assessments to comprehensive rehabilitation services and is now offering one-on-one video running evaluations, in-water swim evaluations, as well as bike fittings at select NovaCare locations. Walk-ins are welcome! To learn more, click here.