Foam Rolling vs PVC?

Jun 22, 2022

I got a great series of questions from a former player who is now a strength and conditioning coach.

Q- Would you recommend a harder rolling surface over a normal foam roller? Especially for those who have been rolling for long periods of time? Think regular black foam roller vs. a pvc pipe.

A- The idea of "no pain no gain" is loosely based on the fact that we know that rolling will initially be uncomfortable. However, we can't jump forward from "no pain, no gain" to the idea of "more pain, more gain". PVC pipe etc. may be OK in certain areas for really large, muscular clients. In general, foam rolling is not a "harder is better" pursuit.

Q- Would you agree that if I were to use a normal foam roller that physiological change over time would take longer? Would the denser surface and increased compression equal faster change than a softer surface?

A- This goes back to point 1 above. Harder may lead to injury, bruising etc. The key is appropriate pressure for the client or athlete. My guideline is to match the density of the tool to the density of the client.

Q- Are you concerned at all that the aggressive rolling with a harder surface could actually cause more damage and risk acutely impairing performance?

A- Yes, see above

Q- Lastly, do you have any credible research that support any of your answers, or is it more subjective based on your experience with training and your practice?

A- I think it is a combination of subjective experience and, the subjective experience and research around massage therapy, ART, etc. If you think of rolling as "poor mans massage", than you are on the right track.  There is significant research in the physical therapy field about tissue change via manual techniques. That is why we have ART, MAT, Graston etc. I think we are then expanding this thought process to rollers and other self massage tools.

The bottom line is that it is always about appropriate pressure, not more pressure. Think about the strength training process. The weight that helps you get strong is one you can lift. If we doubled it, that would not help and probably hurt.

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