Slow your roll

What research says about the purported athletic benefits of foam rollers

If you have a gym membership, you’ve probably seen foam rollers—those cylinders people put on the floor and roll over while making funny faces. Rollers are touted among fitness trainers and athletes who say the deep-tissue self-massage increases flexibility and range of motion, boosts short-term athletic performance when incorporated into a warmup routine, and helps reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness after a workout. Is this simple tool too good to be true? Here’s what a modest amount of clinical research has found:

• Foam-rolling does improve short-term flexibility—for about 10 minutes, in fact—and regularly rolling may also improve it long term.

• Unlike stretching, foam-rolling does not appear to negatively impact immediate athletic performance, but there isn’t a demonstrated improvement, either.

• Using a roller may decrease post-exercise soreness, but, again, the clinical evidence is weak.