These days, “foam rolling” and “recovery” have practically become synonymous—despite the fact that you can, apparently, use your foam roller for an actual workout, too. But what you may not know is that everyone’s favorite recovery tool has another important function aside from helping soothe sore muscles after a workout: They can actually be used before your workout to make your time on the mat even more effective.
The process, referred to by some trainers as “neuropriming,” helps warm up your muscles so that they are fully relaxed before you start working them. That way, when you enter into your workout, they’ll be able to fully compress—allowing you to reap the full benefits of the work you’re putting in. Basically, it’s giving you a full muscle pump instead of the limited one that tight muscles restrict you to. “That’s 100 percent recruitment of the muscle,” explains John Burns, CEO of Tom Brady’s wellness company, TB12. “Imagine you’re doing your quad exercises with 90 percent of the muscle: How much more stable could you be, how much more powerful could you be, how many more reps could you do [if you were using all 100 percent]?” I mean, a lot.
And that’s not the only reason why you should be rolling it out before you’re sweating it out. “Foam rolling before your workout helps increase circulation, decreases tension, and primes the neuromuscular system by driving the parasympathetic nervous system to maximize movement capabilities,” explain Dariusz Stankiewicz and Corinne Croce, the team behind New York City’s new boutique physical therapy studio, Body Evolved.
Per the TB12 team’s recommendation, I actually tried giving myself a roll down ahead of a run earlier this week (for the first time ever—don’t @ me), and found myself able to go farther and faster than usual. Plus, the tightness that almost always ravages my hips after even a mile was nowhere to be found. So I’m with the pros on this one: A pre-workout foam roll is definitely worth waking up five minutes earlier for—for the sake of your muscles and your personal records.
All rolling sessions actually aren’t created equally, so try one of these foam rolling moves depending on your workout of choice. And apparently, you can use foam rolling to banish bloat, too. Here’s how.