Foam Rolling….and Genetics?

Monday, June 27, 2016. Author DR PLEUNI HOOIJMAN PhD

Foam rolling


Is the secret to preventing and curing muscle soreness predetermined by your genes?



Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and formation of fibrous adhesions – the little painful knots – can develop in the muscle tissues of everyone that works out regularly or strenuously, and can have a negative impact on normal muscle mechanics.

Adequate sleep, sufficient hydration, and proper nutrition all  aid recovery by replenishing fuel sources, removing metabolic by-products (like lactic acid) and repairing damaged muscle fibre, but don’t overlook the value of a post-workout massage to encourage the healing process. While paying for a regular massage may be an unaffordable luxury for most people, self-massage is inexpensive and easy.

Foam rollers have dominated the last decade of self-massage, and you will have seen piles of foam rollers at the gym, athletes bringing foam rollers to the track, and sports people of all disciplines using rollers of assorted densities on themselves. 

Self-massage  (by foam roller or other method) as well as traditional massages by therapists- helps to relief muscle pain, reduce muscle tension and stiffness, and improves flexibility, range of motion and enhances performance.

So how do your genetics impact your post-workout recovery?

If you work out or train with friends, you will have noticed that some people ‘naturally’ seem to recover more quickly (or slowly) from exercise.  There are obviously training and fitness related reasons for this, but at least 50% of the difference is genetic.  The genes that impact recovery capacity from a workout are:

  1. ACTN3 which influences the expression of proteins that prevent muscle fibre damage. Additionally, ACTN3 is also known as the Speed Gene, with certain variations linked to Olympic 100 meter Gold.
  2. IL6 which influences the inflammatory response in muscles   
  3. ACE which influences the hormonal regulation of blood flow and has been found in elite endurance athletes and mountain climbers who ascend the world's highest peaks
  4. MCT1 which influences the clearance of fatigue inducing metabolites like lactic acid.

Foam Rolling, Performance, and Recovery

FitnessGenes tests for these 4 genes that predetermine recovery as well as 37 other genes that influence body composition and physical performance. In the Physiological Strategies section of the FitnessGenes Action Blueprint, customers can find out their ‘post workout recovery’ score and read more about strategies to optimize recovery.

Whereas it can be useful for anyone, those with poorer recovery capacity may gain extra benefit from regularly massaging the muscles (preferably immediately) after strenuous exercise, as well as having longer recovery periods between workouts.  Furthermore, those with lower recovery scores may also benefit from consuming foods with high levels of anti-inflammatory properties or by taking high quality fish oil or curcumin supplements.

Interestingly, a recent study showed that pre-exercise foam rolling reduces fatigue after exercise, which may allow increased workout time, intensity, and volume thereby improving performance.

Not only important for recovery, foam rolling can also be beneficial for performance. Comparable to stretching, it can improve the muscle’s range of motion and balances muscle activation and relaxation levels. Some studies showed an increase in vertical jump height and maximal force output when subjects had a pre-workout foam rolling session.

If you want to find out about your genetic post workout recovery capacity, and whether foam rolling may be beneficial for you, get tested by FitnessGenes.


  1. Schroeder AN, Best TM. Is self myofascial release an effective preexercise and recovery strategy? A literature review. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2015;14(3):200–8.
  2. Healey, Kellie C.; Hatfield, Disa L.; Blanpied, Peter; Dorfman, Leah R.; Riebe D. The Effects of Myofascial Release With Foam Rolling on Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(1):61–8.
  3. Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(1):131–42.
  4. Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. Int J Sport Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):827–38.

Further Reading

  1. Do Foam Rollers Actually Work? A Review of the Evidence. By Sonja Ristevski BSc (Hons). Source:

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