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Foam rolling with or without vibration: Impact on muscle and mobility

by P. Debraux | 23 March 2021

foam rolling, vibration, mobility, strength, fitness, recovery, sport, training, workout, relax

Foam rolling first appeared in the fitness world about ten years ago. Initially seen as a UFO, this warm-up and/or recovery technique has become very popular over time, today being almost considered common. Initially presented as a technique acting mainly on muscle fascia, it was suggested that this technique also acted on muscle relaxation via an inhibition of the sympathetic nervous system, allowing a decrease in muscle stiffness and an increase in tolerance to stretching (that is, a decrease in pain sensitivity over stretched areas).

Scientific studies have shown that foam rolling, like passive stretching, ten seconds is enough to increase the articular range of motion. However, the associated impact on muscle strength was not always homogeneous according to the studies: some showing a gain, others no difference and some a loss. These results are strongly dependent on the rolling duration, rolling pressure and rolling frequency...

The recent addition of vibration to the foam rollers, believed to be better than their classic counterpart, has raised the question of whether these new challengers would have a better impact on muscle and mobility. However, the results of the various studies carried out on this topic remain contradictory, with still too little evidence to definitively conclude on positive or negative effects. And no direct comparison between the two types of roller has been made. So, what can we expect from a foam rolling with vibration in terms of mobility and muscle stiffness compared to a foam rolling with a classic roller?

The Study

To answer this question, a team of Austrian and French researchers (part of INSEP) compared the use of two foam rollers (with or without vibration) and its impact on the muscular mechanical properties of the quadriceps and the hip mobility. For this, they recruited 21 physically active people who all performed foam rolling in both conditions with 2 to 7 day intervals between the two interventions.

During each visit to the laboratory, the participants carried out a standardized warm-up on a cyclo-ergometer (10 minutes at 60 rpm with a resistance of 90 W), then carried out a series of tests:

  • Maximum voluntary isometric contraction peak torque (MVIC) was obtained on an isokinetic dynamometer in a seated position (110 ° hip and knee flexion).
  • Passive resistive torque on an isokinetic dynamometer in a seated position, the knee flexing from 90° to 60° flexion at 5°/s. The participants were totally relaxed, and the machine measures the force of passive resistance opposed by the quadriceps as it is stretched.
  • The shear modulus of the muscle measured by ultrasound made it possible to quantify the alteration of the muscle stiffness to stress caused by shear forces following foam rolling.
  • Hip extension range of motion was measured via the modified Thomas test on a therapy table, with 3 trials. To increase the readability of the test results, the researchers used a 3D motion capture system.

All these tests were performed before and after foam rolling, in that order.

Foam rolling was performed with the same foam roller (Blackroll Booster set) on the right thigh. During foam rolling with vibration, the core of the roller was started with a vibration of 32 Hz. The foam rolling of the quadriceps consisted of 3 sets of 60s each (1 set for the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis and the rectus femoris, in that order), with 30s rest between each set. For each set, participants performed 30 repetitions (1s from distal to proximal and 1s from proximal to distal) with as much pressure as possible.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this study showed that concerning foam rolling, with and without vibration, there was a similar increase in MVIC of the quadriceps and a similar decrease in the shear modulus of the muscle. As for the hip extension range of motion, only the foam rolling with vibration allowed a significant gain of 3.3°. But regarding the passive resistive torque and the shear modulus of the vasti medialis and lateralis (but after the 2 foam rolling, the shear modulus of the rectus femoris decreased significantly), no difference was observed before and after the intervention and between the two types of foam rolling.

Regarding the greater gain in joint mobility of foam rolling with vibration, it is possible that the vibrations improved the tolerance to stretching of the muscle, and therefore altered the perception of pain, via a greater contribution of mechanoreceptors (corpuscles of Ruffini and Pacini, sensitive to pressure on the skin) at higher vibrational frequencies. This results in an alteration of the activity of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in a more relaxed muscle state.

However, despite a gain in mobility at the hip extension, the passive resistive torque and the shear moduli of the vasti lateralis and medialis did not decrease, regardless of the type of foam rolling. The authors of the study explain that the low range of motion during the isokinetic dynamometer test as well as the weak stretch of the quadriceps may be the cause of the apparent lack of results for the passive resistive torque. Regarding the shear modulus, it is possible that the order of the foam rolling influenced the results. Due to its anatomical location, the rectus femoris was requested in the 3 sets and therefore, will have been requested much more than the vasti lateralis and medialis. Finally, even if the reduction in the shear modulus of the rectus femoris was observed in the 2 types of foam rolling, only foam rolling with vibration allowed a gain in mobility. The authors indicate that taken together, the stiffness data show that foam rolling with vibration decrease the overall stiffness of the quadriceps more than traditional foam rolling.

Regarding the maximum isometric force, even if the two types of foam rolling allowed an increase (and even if the statistical difference was not reached), it seems that the foam rolling with vibration allowed a significantly higher gain. However, the large inter-individual differences observed show that the results of these practices will be strongly influenced by the muscular properties of each person at a given moment in his training history.

Practical Applications

According to this study, 3 minutes of foam rolling would be enough to improve the maximum isometric strength of the quadriceps, whether the massage is with or without vibration. However, only foam rolling with vibration allowed an increase in mobility in hip extension. This could be due to the greater impact of vibrations on mechanoreceptors, such as the Ruffini and Pacini corpuscles, and on tolerance to muscle stretching.

In practice, there are not yet enough studies to demonstrate superior benefits of foam rollers with vibration compared to the conventional ones, and to justify the purchase of such tools. Should you get one anyway? If you have already used up your foam roller, your mobility is already very good but you are looking for the few extra degrees that you are missing, maybe... But if you have not yet taken an interest in mobility as a supplement to your training, then you can start with inexpensive foam rollers, tennis balls, lacrosse balls, etc.


  1. Reiner MM, Glashüttner C, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M, Guilhem G, Morales-Artacho A and Konrad A. A comparison of foam rolling and vibration foam rolling on the quadriceps muscle function and mechanical properties. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2021.

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