Sunday 30th April, 2023

Stretching vs foam rolling: video version

If you’re looking to increase your flexibility, warm up before exercises or help recover after you’re probably wondering whether you should use stretching or foam rolling. Unfortunately most of the advice your see will be either marketing hype, or stuff scientists have since found is wrong, which means it will be a complete and utter waste of time, or worse still you’ll harm yourself.

Flexibility, warm-ups and recovery are pretty important, so it’s worth getting them right. What I’ll do in this video is share with you what science really says, then where appropriate either advise you on how to best use them, or give you alternatives that are in many cases easier, safer and more effective.

Video: stretching vs foam rolling

Video transcript

Just a quick bit of housekeeping first. This is general information only, to be discussed with a professional familiar with your specific needs, and to keep this video short and to the point I’ll just give you the facts, and put the details and references in this article.


Lets look at flexibility first. You might want to increase your flexibility to loosen up before a work out, relieve the tightness after, or you may want to generally increase your flexibility like say a gymnast or martial artist would do.

Foam rollers

Marketers will tell you that clinical trials show that foam rolling will increase flexibility. They do, but don’t tell you that this increase only lasts less than 10 minutes, which makes foam rolling to increase your flexibility pretty pointless


On the other hand stretching is probably the benchmark for increasing flexibility. It will lengthen your muscles, allow for increased joint movements, and importantly the effects last. To do conventional stretching each muscle is going to have it’s own specific movement and position, but the general principle is to gently tension the muscle for about 30 seconds.


Looking at warm ups next, these are done before exercise or competition, and the main goals are to help prepare your muscles to prevent injuries and to enhance performance.

Injury prevention

The idea behind injury prevention is that if tight muscles are forced to lengthen they may tear, and restricted joints may be injured if they are forced to move too far. That’s why warm ups should make sure your muscles are not tight, and your joints are able to move fully.

People have historically used stretching exercises to help do that, but when the scientists have tested it stretching hasn’t reduced the number of injuries. The reason for this is on one hand stretching your muscles will reduce their risk of tearing, but on the other hand stretching can allow joints to move beyond their normal range, make them more vulnerable.

What this tells us, is if you use stretching before competition or a work out just limit the stretches to normal amounts of movement. Alternatively, there’s other ways which I’ll discuss shortly that will lengthen the muscles without the risk of over stretching joints.

Increasing performance

Looking at increasing performance next, marketers will talk about things like increasing blood flow and raising temperature. They talk about that stuff rather than actual increased performance because the trials of foam rolling usually show either no increase in performance, or a small reduction.

Looking at stretching, in competition you certainly don’t want tight muscles restricting your movement, but stretching, especially over-stretching has been shown to actually decrease performance.

Alternatives for warm-ups

That said, lets look at your alternatives for a warm up. According to the scientists the two highly effective things you can do for a warm up are a dynamic warm up and genuine vibration massage. I’ll discuss these at the finish, but they both help lengthen muscles and have both been scientifically shown to increase performance. What they’ve found is properly applied vibration at the right frequencies will increase strength and increase the time taken for your muscles to fatigue, while in one trial dynamic warm-ups actually enabled athletes to jump 2 inches or 5cm higher.

Post exercise recovery

The last usage we’ll look at is post exercise recovery. What’s happening here is strenuous exercise can do microscopic damage to your muscle fibres, leaving you feeling a bit stiff and sore, and your muscles will be down on performance. What you’re after is something that’s going to relieve the tightness and help speed up healing.


Stretching is often recommended, but the clinical trials show that any effects are miniscule. Looking at what stretching does I could see that it could help relax the muscles allowing a bit more blood to flow, but at the same time it could disrupt the muscle fibres that are trying to heal. So, no benefits and a lot of question marks.

Foam rolling

Now you will also see foam rollers heavily marketed as something to help recovery, and that marketing will often mention scientific trials. However, the marketers won’t tell you that these improvements were really small, or that all the other trials showed no benefits at all. To give you the real picture about how useful foam rolling is for post exercise recovery a scientist recently reviewed all 21 studies and concluded that the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery were rather minor and partially negligible. We also have other scientists who’ve expressed concern about potential damage to to nerves and blood vessels.

Alternatives for post exercise recovery

I’m sure you’re aware that there’s a lot of stuff marketed as aids to recovery, but the reality is that most are pretty well useless. What I’d recommend is you check out our practical science based guide to post exercise recovery linked in the description. This gives the proper overall strategy including basics such as rest, sleep, hydration and nutrition, plus the pros and cons of the various therapies said to help. Of these additional therapies vibration massage has produced by far the most benefit in clinical trials.

Convention massage is not as good, but still useful so if you’re a member of a sports club that provides massage after your game or workout that will help a bit. Also you’ll probably read about a thing called active recovery. That’s simply using some light exercises to help loosen muscles and get some blood pumping. This can be useful, but you’re walking a tight rope. Done in moderation it will help relax the muscles and increase blood flow, but too much and it will damage the muscle fibres that are trying to heal.

The alternaive therapies: dynamic warm-ups and genuine vibration massage

Dynamic warm-ups

A dynamic warm-up simply means means doing movement or activities. Examples include walking or exercising. The most beneficial dynamic warm-ups involve activities and movements that mirror the requirements of your sport rather general movements. Of course this will vary depending on what you do.

Just say you’re a weight lifter. You’re going to be doing a very specific set of movements, and you certainly don’t want to do something like stretching that will reduce strength and maybe allow joints to move too far and become vulnerable. The ideal dynamic warm-up would be to do the movements with lighter weights, enough to warm up but not cause fatigue. On the other hand if you’re a footballer, any code, you could be doing a range of movement including some that you can’t predict so your dynamic workout would need to include a variety of exercises and movements.

The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage

Genuine vibration massage

The other excellent therapy was genuine vibration massage. This is where a vibration massager sends in therapeutic vibrations. Science has found that vibrations in the therapeutic range of 30-60 Hz have (cycles per second) have excellent therapeutic effects, plus as mentioned benefit hugely flexibility, warm-up and recovery.

Practical advice on using genuine vibration massage

At this point we need to differentiate genuine therapeutic vibration massagers from percussion massagers or massage guns. If you read the massage gun marketing they say they their machines are designed to drive their head into the muscles to give added penetration and combine the effects of conventional massage.

Percussion vs vibration massage

The easiest way to explain the reality is use the simple analogy of a vibration construction compactor vs a jackhammer. A genuine therapeutic vibration massager is like the compactor. Compactors are designed to send send large amounts of vibration deep into the ground without harming the surface, while therapeutic vibration massagers are designed to send large amounts of therapeutic vibrations deep into the muscles. On the other hand percussion massagers are are like jackhammers, they not designed to send vibrations deep into the ground. They’re designed to smash the surface.

When you compare the two machines you just need to remember one thing: its the vibrations that have the therapeutic benefits and can penetrate deep into your muscles. Genuine vibration massagers are very easy to use, very safe, and send in huge amounts of therapeutic vibrations. On massage guns claim the benefits of vibrations, but they use those vibrations drive the head in, pummelling and potentially damaging the muscle. They’re made out to be safe and effective, but they’re not. but the reality is they can do a lot of damage and there’s even a report in a scientific journal of someone nearly killing themselves with one.

Actually if you look for a massager most of the machines you’ll find are either massage guns or ineffective consumer machines built to be mothers day presents rather than genuine therapeutic devices. To get an effective machine please see our article How to choose a massager . For how to use a genuine vibration massager please see our article How to use a hand held massager .

Foam roller vs professional therapist

Why th results for foam rolling are so bad

Lastly, if you’ve seen a lot of marketing about foam rollers you’re probably wondering why they’ve done so badly in the trials. It’s pretty simple. If we look at conventional massage for warm-ups and recovery we find that it’s useful, but not as useful as vibration or a dynamic warm up. Now for the reasons shown in this pic foam rolling will never be as good as a professional therapist.
What that means is as far as scientifically proven merit goes we’ve got vibration and dynamic warm ups here, conventional massage here, and foam rollers here. Another thing you need to understand that these scientific trial results were achieved with patients chosen for suitability, a professional determining the appropriate techniques, then excellent instructions and supervision. In the real world people use them without professional instructions and supervision, often on conditions where foam rolling is inappropriate, so in the real world foam rollers are more like down here. As a chiropractor for 27 years I saw a lot of people hurt themselves for very little benefit.

Anyway, thanks very much for watching. It’s been most appreciated. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate.

Professional at desk


DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page .

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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