It's another day at the gym and you're getting ready to tackle a killer workout. You know you need to stretch and get your muscles ready before you hit the weights. But have you considered adding foam rolling to your routine? Foam rolling is gaining in popularity as a supplement to traditional stretching and warm-ups.

What's wrong with static stretching?

Static stretching might sound like a new term, but it simply means holding a challenging yet comfortable pose for up to 45 seconds to help improve your muscle flexibility. But when you engage in static stretching on a muscle or muscle group for more than 45 seconds, according to one study, it may lead to the opposite effect. Instead of improving mobility, you can actually reduce performance.

What is foam rolling?

While the precise origins of foam rolling are unknown, the practice started to gain popularity in the 1980s as a form of self-massage. Once strictly the domain of dancers and professional athletes, foam rolling has now gone mainstream and can be found in niche gyms and fitness classes across the United States. Foam rolling is the act of slowly rolling various parts of your body over a firm tube to help improve flexibility and performance. Traditionally, it was something athletes did before competition to increase athleticism and minimize post-event soreness and afterward to shorten recovery periods.

But does foam rolling really work?

For the longest time, foam rolling was viewed as a fringe activity. To this day, there isn't a large body of research devoted to this stretching process. However, the research that has been conducted is very promising. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation shows that foam rolling, when combined with standard stretching, can improve range of motion in your hips. Researchers noted that foam rolling helped to improve a muscle's viscosity, which meant that it was less likely to be adversely affected by sustained activity.

Some believe that the reason foam rolling is so effective is that it directly massages the body's fascia. But scientists believe it's more likely that the activity stimulates the nervous system. The nervous system theory is supported by a Scottish study conducted by the University of Stirling. Researchers found that when respondents used foam rolling for leg extensions on only one leg, their other leg also experienced the increased mobility and flexibility benefits.

Foam rolling also offers benefits for post-workout recovery. It may help to reduce soreness and allow for muscles to heal faster by activating pressure receptors under your skin. These receptors trigger a reaction in your brain that causes a relaxation effect, reduces stress levels, and improves your pain tolerance.

Is foam rolling better than static stretching?

While foam rolling may have the potential to improve your performance, none of the studies indicated that it should replace static stretching. Instead, the two activities should complement each other. Research shows that using the two activities together can help to improve your performance and ensure that your muscles are working effectively. Ultimately, each individual will need to decide if foam rolling is best for them and their overall performance goals.