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Can Foam Rolling Improve Rock Climbing Performance?

Can Foam Rolling Improve Rock Climbing Performance?

You have probably seen athletes in Soccer, Basketball and CrossFit rolling their muscles before and after a training session. And you may have asked yourself if it would help with rock climbing as well. 

Since rock climbing is such a different sport from most mainstream sports that are heavy cardio and weightlifting centric, it can be difficult to identify what is good for a climber compared to other athletes so I decided to do some research.

I learned that foam rolling is a great tool to help climbers increase their range of motion and recover from training faster and better. Range of motion alone is a great reason for climbers to give it a try and a nice thing about foam rollers is that most climbing gyms already have one available for you.

If you still aren’t convinced, here is an outline of three studies about the effect of foam rolling on your training and how it is applicable to you as a climber.

What Is Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is an exercise that uses a large foam cylinder to accomplish the self-myofascial release (SMR) technique. Essentially, it relieves muscle tightness, soreness, inflammation and range of motion in your joints.

Most athletes use foam rolling before and after their training and in the case of climbers, also during rest days or the evening yoga session.

It’s generally considered safe, though you should consult your doctor if you have any injuries, especially tendon or rotator cuff issues.

The actual action of foam rolling usually consists of the foam roller on the ground and you placing the part of your body that you want to loosen up on it while rolling back and forth.

There are two main types of rollers, smooth rollers, which are most common for people new to foam rolling and textured rollers, which are best for more intense muscle soreness or intense “roll-out”

Foam Rolling Improves Your Range of Motion

One of the things about foam rolling that intrigued me the most when it comes to rock climbing is the number of studies that suggest foam rolling improves your range of motion. Since your climbing performance is heavily affected by your range of motion, I’d also consider this one of the most compelling reasons you should consider foam rolling in your training regimen.

This study published in 2018, called Effects of Foam Rolling on Range of Motion, Peak Torque, Muscle Activation, and the Hamstrings-to-Quadriceps Strength Ratios, looked at 22 recreationally active women to see if foam rolling would affect a range of motion and leg strength.

To measure this, they measured the range of motion and leg strength before and after the following test: some of the women foam roll before performing leg workouts, some women stretched before performing leg workouts and the rest of the women rested before performing leg workouts. 

The results showed that the women who rolled out their leg muscles before performing the leg workouts had a greater range of motion improvement compared to the women that stretched and the women that rested.

As we climbers know, your range of motion can be the difference between making the next move and falling. Based on the study outlined above, foam rolling can help make that difference.

Foam Rolling Reduces Muscle Soreness

Being sore after a nice training session is often associated with a good workout. Unfortunately, it also means that your body is producing lactic acid that may hinder your recovery. This means that soreness is not something to celebrate.

By minimizing soreness, you are not only able to recover better and faster, you can also climb sooner and decrease how long you have to wait between training sessions. This can be the difference you need to reach your new personal best or finish that project you’ve been working on for the last month.

In this study from 2014 called Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool after an Intense Bout of Physical Activity, researchers looked at 20 men to understand the effectiveness of foam rolling as a recovery tool after exercise-induced muscle damage.

To test this, two groups were created, one that used foam rolling before the physical test and one that didn’t. In addition, the researchers looked at how much force was used while foam rolling to account for any variance from that.

Results showed that foam rolling was not only beneficial for reducing muscle soreness but also most effective for increasing the rate and strength response of muscles and connective tissue.

Foam Rolling Reduces Muscle Fatigue

Muscle fatigue is a curse in the climbing circle. A common symptom of muscle fatigue is the common “pump” that you may experience halfway through your climb. Getting pumped can prevent you from finishing the climb and thus decreasing muscle fatigue can be the difference between getting past the crux and falling.

With that being the case, anything that can minimize muscle fatigue can improve climbing performance and rolling out your muscles before or after your training session may be that difference. 

In this study from 2017 called Preventive and Regenerative Foam Rolling are Equally Effective in Reducing Fatigue-Related Impairments of Muscle Function following Exercise looked at 45 adults, 22 women and 24 men to see if foam rolling can prevent impairments due to muscle fatigue.

To test this the participants were divided into 3 groups, one group that foam rolled before the exercise, one group that foam rolled after and one group that didn’t foam roll.

Results showed that both the groups that foam rolled before or foam rolled after the exercise benefited from reduced muscle fatigue. They also noted that it doesn’t matter if you do the foam rolling before or after the exercise, fatigue was still minimized.

A secondary finding that they published was that foam rolling could be helpful in preventing sports-related muscular injury. With injury being detrimental in climbing, this is definitely an interesting find.

One thing that I would have liked to see in this study was if there was another group that foam rolled before and after the exercise to see if there was any substantial difference between rolling once and rolling twice.

So what?

There are many studies about foam rolling that have been published in the last few years. These are just three studies that I found helpful when considering foam rolling as a means to improve rock climbing performance. As you can see, foam rolling may be a great addition to your climbing regimen and may improve your performance.

The range of motion may be the most compelling reason because increasing your range of motion can help you make moves that you may not have been able to do otherwise.

Decreasing muscle soreness is important, especially when you are trying to increase your performance or perhaps finish that project you’ve been working on for the last month. The less sore your muscles are, the faster you can get back on the climbing wall.

Also, with decreased muscle fatigue, you may be able to get passed that crux and minimize the amount of pump you get while climbing.

My Favorite Roller:

I recently got a roller from Costco and though it was a perfect size, it is super “pokey” so it hurts to use on tight muscles. With that being the case, I’ve decided that a more “flat” version like this one would be better to use

GRID Foam Roller with Free Online Instructional Videos, Original (13-Inch)

See the price from Amazon here.