Foam rolling is a self-massage technique that has become increasingly popular among athletes in the past decade. Proponents claim that it increases performance and flexibility and speeds up muscle recovery, and foam rolling is often used both as a warm-up and as a recovery method. However, thus far there is no real scientific consensus on which kinds of athletes actually benefit from using foam rollers, or when to use them for the best outcomes.
While they are normally only used before or after an activity, a recent study aimed to determine whether foam rolling during the halftime of a soccer match could mitigate the significant performance drop that tends to appear at the beginning of the second half, often attributed to a decrease in muscle temperature. In the study, participants performed a series of sprints to simulate the first half of a match. During a fifteen minute "halftime" period, some of the participants used the foam roller to massage their leg muscles, while the others rested passively. Then the participants repeated the same series of sprints, and the researchers compared their performances in this second half to those from the first half.
As expected, all players performed slightly worse during the second half due to fatigue, but the researchers found that the foam roller group had a smaller decrease in sprint performance than the group that had simply rested. This suggests that foam rolling positively impacts short-term muscle recovery and allows players to return to the field better prepared to sprint, a useful finding for any competitive sports team with multiple time intervals during a game. While active stretching or other warm-up activities may have produced the same result, foam rolling may be better since it requires less energy and ensures that players can listen to their coaches' instructions during halftime.