Presentation Title

Effects of Foam Rolling on Cardiac-parasympathetic Activity

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Abstract or Description

Presentation given at the National Strength and Conditioning Association National Conference.

Massage therapy has been shown to stimulate cardiac-parasympathetic activity, inferred from increased heart rate variability (HRV). Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that athletes often use to facilitate recovery from training. We hypothesized that foam rolling may be an inexpensive and convenient alternative to massage therapy for transiently increasing HRV. PURPOSE: To assess the acute effects of foam rolling on HRV. METHODS: Healthy adult men (n = 6) and women (n = 4) volunteered for this study. We used a randomized, cross-over design for the experimental approach. Following a 2-h fast, subjects reported to the laboratory on two separate occasions at a similar time of day, within one week. In a randomized order, subjects performed a foam rolling intervention (FR) or control (C). FR consisted of rolling the gastrocnemius, knee flexors, knee extensors, latissimus dorsi, upper back, and elbow extensors for 30 s on each side. C consisted of assuming each foam rolling position for the same duration of time without using the roller. Subjects were seated comfortably and quietly at rest for 10 min before and for an additional 30 min post-condition. The natural logarithm of the root-mean square of successive RR interval differences (LnRMSSD) was measured at 5-10 min pre- (T1), 5-10 min post- (T2) and 25-30 min post-condition (T3) using a portable electrocardiograph sensor. Changes in LnRMSSD across time and between conditions were assessed with a linear mixed model and Cohen’s effect sizes (ES). RESULTS: A position x time interaction was observed (p = 0.024). LnRMSSD values across time for each condition were FR T1 = 4.05 ± 0.65, FR T2 = 3.79 ± 0.76, FR T3 = 3.89 ± 0.67 and C T1 = 3.73 ± 0.85, C T2 = 3.87 ± 0.62, C T3 = 3.74 ± 0.67. Post-hoc analysis showed that FR T1 was greater than C T1 (p = 0.012, ES = 0.41), C T3 (p = 0.015, ES = 0.47) and FR T2 (p = 0.007, ES = 0.37). CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to our hypothesis, FR did not increase HRV relative to control. In fact, FR reduced HRV relative to FR T1 within 10 min post-FR. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS: While foam rolling may have benefits related to muscle soreness, flexibility, mobility and perceptual well-being, it did not positively affect cardiac-parasympathetic activity in this study. Thus, it seems that foam rolling would not be a suitable alternative to massage therapy for stimulating cardiac-parasympathetic activity.


National Strength and Conditioning Association National Conference


Washington, D.C.