What could be simpler? Just hop on a piece of foam and roll up and down… anyone could do that right? Yes, anyone can but few do. Why? Mainly because it hurts. It’s effective but my god is it sore.
Yes today we are talking about the foam roller, the cost-effective means of massaging aching muscles and forcing you to embrace pain during your rest days. Who invented the foam roller? What was its purpose and how did it end up in gyms across the world?
By the end of the article you’ll have the answers to these questions and perhaps have a new found appreciation for the $20 torture device.
Who invented the foam roller?
Foam rollers were initially used by Feldenkrais method practitioners during the 1980s. Never heard of it? Me neither.
Created by Moshé Feldenkrais in the latter half of the 20th century, the Feldenkrais method aims to reduce pain and mobility issues alongside improving physical functioning through increasing clients’ awareness of their own body. It originated in the early 1920s when Moshe Feldenkrais, a physicist and martial artist, learned to decrease pain in his knee and improve his athletic performances after paying conscious attention to how his body moved. Whilst it’s effectiveness has been questioned in recent years , there are those who swear by the Feldenkrais method in helping their own ailments.
In any case Feldenkrais practitioners first used foam rollers as body supports and to do standing balance work with their clients.
Knowledge of foam rollers didn’t remain a secret for long though. In 1987 physical therapist and then Feldenkrais student, Sean Gallagher began to use foam rollers as a self massage tool. Gallagher soon got in contact with Jerome Robbins, a noted broadway star, and told Robbins about the benefits of foam rolling for aching muscles. Overseeing a troupe of dancers who needed to be in show condition every night, Robbins asked his cast members to experiment with foam rollers. To his great delight the feedback from his dancers was overwhelmingly positive, leading to the introduction of foam rollers en masse for broadway dancers.
So how did foam rollers end up on my Gym floor?
Whilst it’s a little more tricky to pinpoint who introduced foam rollers to the weight lifting community, many are in agreement that the works of Physical Therapist Mike Clark during the 1990s helped spread the message of foam rolling under the guise of what Clark termed “self myofascial release.” In his pre-millennia writings, Clarke produced many manuals detailing foam rolling for self massage practices. This eventually culminated in Clarke’s opus Integrated Training for the New Millennium published in 2001.
Slowly but surely the popularity of foam rolling began to increase, especially amongst weight lifters, as a means of reducing aching muscles and improving gym performance. A 2004 T-Nation article by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson demonstrates the enthusiasm early pioneers had for the roller. 2004 also saw the first foam roller patent registered in the United States, kicking the foam roller business into overdrive.
Nowadays a cursory foam roller search on Amazon results in over 1,000 results, making it safe to say that the foam roller has become a fully accepted member of the weightlifting family. So just like the Swiss Ball, we have the physical therapy community to thank for yet another gym toy.
So next time you’re crying out while rolling your quads, you know exactly who to blame!
Hi Conor, thanks for the Feldenkrais shout-out as to roller origins! See the Hillier and Worley (2015) review of Feldenkrais research showing it to be helpful in a variety of ways, using the highest research standards. We still use rollers in a variety of ways in Feldenkrais lessons, for feeling connection among body parts, opening up “held” connections, and reducing friction on support surfaces. For a “wake-up”, try rolling a small roller under one foot, or both feet, or sit bones, or along the length of spine, or cross-wise under each rib/thoracic vertebra!
How are you? Thanks so much for getting in touch!
I must admit that I am hugely ignorant about the Feldenkrais method so will be checking out that review right now. Happy to hear the rollers are still in use.
Funnily I do that ‘wake up’ exercise with a small roller already and must attest to its great benefits!
Have a great day 🙂
What sources did you use to get all of this information?
Hi there, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the article.
If you click on the underlined words that provides many of the sources used. Another source used was an old Physical Training magazine I found in my University’s library. Here’s a link to it:
If you type in Jerome Robbins you’ll get a preview of some of it.
Hope this helps and if you need more just let me know as I’d be happy to help,
Filalny! This is just what I was looking for.
An ineelligtnt point of view, well expressed! Thanks!
For those of you like myself who live by this please check out my foam rolling device BackBaller – We’ve taken foam rolling off the floor.
Hi Noel, thanks for stopping by. I’m sure our readers will find that of use