The History of the Foam Roller

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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?

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Moshe Feldenkrais

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?

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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!

 

 

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