Stretching Vs. Foam Rolling: Is One Better Than the Other?
These days, there are some obvious fitness trends that guys should embrace. It’s probably best to ditch the crunches for functional core movements like planks and bird dogs. And it’s safe for you to trade an hour on the treadmill for a 20-minute HIIT session. But what about your warmup? There’s less of a definitive answer here. Fitness enthusiasts swear by foam rolling while more traditional gym goers prefer static stretching. Is one better than the other, or do we need both?
Benefits of Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a technique that enables self-myofascial release. This is just a fancy way of saying self-message. Just as a masseuse would rub the knots out of your back and quads, a foam roller does the same thing—it just requires a little more effort on your part. However, foam rolling isn’t just about feeling good. There are several benefits:
- Foam rolling increases blood flow throughout the body. This leads to better movement and range of motion.
- There’s a decreased risk of injury.
- There’s also a decreased recovery period (i.e. less soreness).
In short, foam rolling not only preps you for your workout but helps you bounce back for the next session. Also, it can easily be done before and after a workout, and every day if you prefer. And, you can reach those hard-to-stretch areas of your body like your lower back and inner thigh.
Benefits of Stretching
Like foam rolling, static stretching can stop muscle cramps, increase range of motion, reduce injury risk, and even delay or reduce soreness. You can achieve all this without any additional equipment. If you go for an outdoor run, all you need are your arms and legs to get a good stretch.
However, some studies have shown that performing static stretches before a workout can actually reduce your muscle capacity. This means you’ll have trouble with explosive movements or breaking through plateaus. Other studies suggest static stretches can actually increase injury risk, because you’re simply elongating your muscle but not preparing the fibers to fire off during your workout.
If you’re set on stretching instead of foam rolling, dynamic stretches are a more effective alternative.
Which Is Best?
Both foam rolling and stretching have their benefits, and certainly, if you’re taking the time to warm up and cool down properly, you’re doing the right thing. But foam rolling seems to be the better option because it not only improves your flexibility, fends off soreness, and lengthens your muscles, but it also relieves the tension that leads to muscle tightness and soreness.
Think of it this way: would you rather have someone massage you or stretch you after a workout? Odds are, you’d rather have someone massage you. Massages are both relaxing and therapeutic. A little one on one time with the foam roller can accomplish the same effects.
Your recovery shouldn’t focus solely on preventing soreness; you should also aim to boost ROM and overall capacity. For this, foam rolling is the best option.