Remember back in gym class when your coach used to emphasize the importance of static stretching before and after exercise to prevent injury?
Well the warm-up stretch has been shown to increase injury risk some time ago, and the cool-down stretch has just been debunked as the only thing you need after a workout. While stretching may help you stretch already relaxed portions of your muscle, it is unable to target the tense knots, called trigger points, in your muscles – the ones that are inhibiting your flexibility and holding back your power. The fact is that the merits of stretching have been overstated and you are not reaping maximum benefits for your fitness goals through stretching alone.
Foam rolling on the other hand, works out the kinks in your muscle and makes them more pliable and flexible. Unlike stretching, it is also able to release tension in the protective fascial layer around all your muscles and organs. The result: Reduced injury and higher athletic performance.
What stretching does to your muscles
Your muscles are composed of basic units of sacromeres that lengthen during extension and shorten during contraction. Hence you can become flexible if: 1) You have more sacromeres in your muscle, or, 2) allowing sarcomeres to lengthen more.
Static stretching, like the dreaded hamstring stretch, break down some connections between filaments to increase your flexibility via the latter mechanism. This also means a weaker muscle more prone to injury if overdone.
However, your muscle accumulates permanently tense areas known as “muscle knots” or “trigger points” through physical stress. These constantly contracted chains of sacromeres shorten your muscle and reduce your flexibility, making you more prone to injury. Blood flow bringing nutrients to these tense areas is also decreased, slowing down muscle recovery. Stretching does nothing to these detestable muscle knots.
Pushing yourself past your natural range of motion to get a ‘good stretch’ is very dangerous and can result in injury instead. When your muscle is already stretched out, further stretching stretches the ligaments, which are not very stretchable. This can result in a microtear (what we call a pull or strain), or even in a complete ligament tear.
What is foam rolling?
Also known as Self-Myofascial Release foam rolling is a self-applied technique that releases your muscle knots and breaks down the adhesions and scar tissue accumulated during exercise. The picture below briefly describes how this occurs.
The compression of the roller on a tense knot of muscle stimulates an excitation-fatigue response: The pain causes the knot to contract harder until the ion gradient in the area is depleted. The fatigued muscle is finally able to relax and add to the length of the muscle. Blood flow to the previously knotted area is increased, and the nutrients in the blood help to grow new sacromeres. This process takes only about 20 s to occur.
Foam rolling VS Stretching
In conclusion, both stretching (in moderation) and foam rolling increases your flexibility and reduces your injury risk while increasing athletic performance. Hence they should be a staple for everyone. Stretching keeps the relaxed portions of the muscle from becoming stiff, while foam rolling releases permanently contracted muscle knots and stimulates new muscle growth.
That said, if you are short of time and only have time for stretching or foam rolling, opt for a foam roll as it improves your flexibility via 2 routes compared to the single mechanism from static stretching.
Start foam rolling today!
With all these benefits of increased performance and lower injury risk from foam rolling, what are you waiting for? Check out our guide on how to foamroll right now! If you haven’t purchased a foam roller, get the best bang for your buck with MyoTrigger’s high quality foam rollers, or find out which foam roller is best for you!