Foam Rolling vs Stretching: What’s the Difference?

May 20th, 2020

Flexibility is a crucial role in daily function and athletic performance, but what’s the best way to improve flexibility? Or a better question – is there a best way to improve flexibility? Between foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic stretching, there are a multitude of different techniques and approaches to improving flexibility. Understanding the benefits of each way to improve flexibility will help to make more lasting flexibility changes to improve daily function and athletic performance and to get the most out of working out. Having the necessary mobility of muscles and joints allows us to function through our body’s full range of motion to move (and EXERCISE!) more efficiently decreasing undue stress to our muscles and joints. Limited mobility also leads to potential compensations that could also lead to injury.

Foam Rolling

Whether it’s using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, tennis ball, massage stick, rolling, etc., self-soft tissue mobilization (STM) can improve flexibility and increase the temperature of our muscles, making this technique more effective as part of a warm-up routine. Self-STM can also help to decrease overall pain making workouts and daily activities more effective, and can also be used after a workout or run to decrease soreness and improve recovery. Focus on tender spots or “knots” for approximately 1-2-mins per major muscle group (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, pecs, and shoulder muscles).

Static Stretching

Static stretching involves taking a muscle to its end-range and holding for a period of time (typically between 30-60 seconds). While static alone cannot prevent injury, it can significantly increase flexibility particularly at the end of a workout or physical activity after the muscles have been warmed up. Beyond the effects of decreasing stiffness and pain, static stretching can also decrease stress levels, especially when combined with controlled breathing.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching, or moving a body part through a range of motion quickly, can also increase overall flexibility, as well as increase our body’s core temperature prior to physical activity. Dynamic stretching can also prepare our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints for physical activity by performing movements that mimic the activity/workout/sport to be participated. Examples of dynamic stretching include: Inch worms, arm swings, arm circles, leg swings, Frankenstein’s, butt kickers, high knees, squat jumps, jumping jacks, walking lunges, and the list goes on! Performing dynamic stretching following the use of a foam roller will further help to prepare muscles and joints for activity allowing us to get the most out of our workouts.

Each of these approaches will help to improve flexibility, especially being more effective when appropriately timed around workouts or physical activity. Struggling with improving your flexibility or always feeling stiff and sore? Contact any one of our locations in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, or Washington Township to schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists!

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