These are 4 of the best foam rolling exercises to build muscle.
Foam rolling is so much more than just a new fitness trend—it’s one of the best ways to improve joint function, enhance mobility, and decrease post-workout muscle soreness. As multiple studies have discovered, foam rolling can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and keep your muscles in tip-top shape!
But here’s an interesting question: can you use foam rolling exercises to build muscle?
A 2013 study found that foam rolling would increase range of motion without negative effects on muscle strength. That’s all well and good, but we want to know if foam rolling can actually INCREASE muscular performance. Or, is there a way that foam rolling can lead to better muscle growth overall?
Let’s take a look at a few of the studies that specifically examined foam rolling on muscular performance:
Foam Rolling – NEVER Between Sets
In a February 2016 study, 25 female participants were set to perform three sets of knee extensions using a 10-Rep Maximum load. During their break, they were either allowed passive rest or subjected to 60 to 120 seconds of foam rolling.
Results: More time spent foam rolling led to fewer repetitions performed. The group that engaged in passive rest had the best performance, while the foam roller group saw a decrease in performance.
Not the best outcome in terms of muscle-building!
This reinforced the findings published in a December 2016 study, which indicated that foam rolling should NOT be applied to the muscles between sets. Using foam rolling between sets led to a decrease in repetitions and overall performance.
Foam Rolling Pre-Workout = Visible Improvement
In a 2014 study, it was discovered that using foam rolling BEFORE the workout led to improved athletic performance. When 11 athletic men were subjected to either a dynamic warm-up or a dynamic warm-up with a foam rolling session, the latter group saw an improvement in their power, agility, strength, speed, and flexibility.
In regards to strength, specifically, the results were visible. Men who underwent dynamic stretching alone were able to bench press 80 to 118% of their 1-Rep Max weight. Men who included foam rolling in their warm-up performed bench presses with 83 to 123% of their 1-Rep Max weight. That’s a 5% increase!
How Foam Rolling Leads to Muscular Growth
The truth is that foam rolling, when done at the proper times (before and after your workout), can lead to visible muscular growth, for a number of reasons:
- Reduced soreness. Have you ever tried to push yourself to your limits with sore muscles? Not only is it difficult, but there’s a serious risk of injury! Reducing post-workout soreness (DOMS) improves muscular performance the next time you to go train the muscle. Foam rolling can help to speed up muscle recovery (see the next bullet point for the reason why), preventing those sore muscles from getting into the way of a 100% intensity workout!
- Better blood flow to the muscles. Applying pressure to your muscles with the foam roller increases blood flow to the muscles. This ensures that your body sends more oxygen and nutrients, meaning faster repair of damaged muscle tissue. Foam rolling a few hours after your workout can help to speed up recovery rates, decreasing the amount of downtime required between workouts.
- Less stiffness. Stiff muscles and joints can do more than just slow you down—they can also lead to serious injuries. Your body tries to compensate for a reduced range of motion, using other joints or muscles incorrectly. Stiff joints and muscles can cause musculoskeletal imbalances that may increase the chance of injuries during your training, especially when training at maximum intensity. By rolling away the stiffness, you ensure a full range of natural motion and good flexibility for proper posture and exercise performance.
- Smoothed out fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue covering and threading through your muscle tissue. Repetitive motion, a lack of activity, and injuries can cause the fascia to bind with the muscle tissue, leading to “trigger points” and “knots”. This tightness in your muscle can be painful and limit mobility. By smoothing out the fascia with your foam roller, you improve mobility and prevent muscle pain.
Think about it: when you can move smoothly and efficiently without pain, that’s when your workout performance hits 100%! It’s always tough to get through a workout when your joints ache, your muscles are stiff and sore, and you’re feeling twinges from tight, knotted muscles.
But, with foam rolling, you prevent stiffness, soreness, and knots. The foam rolling speeds up recovery and gets your muscles ready for the next high-intensity training session. As the above-mentioned study proves, you can enhance athletic performance by incorporating foam rolling into your pre-workout warm-up routine. Add it into your post-workout cool-down, and you’ll see visible results in your range of motion, flexibility, and mobility.
My 4 Favorite Foam Rolling Exercises to Build Muscle
I’m devoted to foam rolling because I’ve seen visible results! Once you get past the initial pain of the rolling, it limbers you up and gets you ready for a hardcore training session.
Here are the foam rolling exercises I use to get my body ready for a muscle-building workout. Mix them into your pre-workout routine as well as before bed, and you’ll see visible muscle growth in no time!
Back Roll – When I’m prepping for Back Day, this foam rolling exercise loosens everything up and prepares my spine for some Deadlifting, Good-Mornings, and Back Extensions.
To perform the exercise:
- Lie on the floor, with the foam roller beneath your upper back.
- Cross your arms to extend your shoulder blades.
- Lifting your hips off the floor (which places the weight on the roller), shift your body slightly to focus on the muscles along the left side of your spine. Roll all the way down to your lower back, then again up to your traps.
- Repeat a few times on the left side, then again on the right.
IT Band Roll – On Leg Days, when I’m going to be hitting the Sumo Squats, Pistol Squats, and Lateral Lunges hard, this movement helps to keep my IT band from aching.
To perform the exercise:
- Lie on your right side, with the foam roller beneath your right hip. Cross your left leg over your extended right leg.
- Support as much weight on your right leg as you can tolerate, then roll from your hip down to your knee.
- Repeat three times on the right side, then switch over to the left side.
Quadriceps Roll – Nothing gets me ready for a high-intensity lower body workout like this roll!
To perform the exercise:
- Lie on your stomach, with the foam roller beneath your thighs.
- Support yourself on your forearms, resting as much weight as you can tolerate on the roller.
- Roll one leg at a time, moving from your knee to your hips and back down again.
Chest Roll – When my pecs are sore from an intense day of Push-Ups, Bench Presses, or Flys, I LOVE doing this foam rolling exercise.
To perform the exercise:
- Lie on your stomach, with the foam roller beneath your chest.
- Extend your right arm and shift your weight to focus on the right pectoral muscle, and roll up and down.
- Repeat a few times per side
Rolling the fascia and using these release techniques can enhance your training experience and increase blood flow to the muscles. I highly recommend implementing foam rolling into your prehab routine.