An Open Letter to SHAPE Magazine

Quick question? Do you enjoy spreading lies?

Sorry if that was a bit confrontational to begin, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit agitated after coming across an article of yours, 4 Foam Rolling Exercises to Burn Fat and Reduce Cellulite, which was published on your page on December 15, 2014. In this article, you claim that it “can help smooth out cellulite.” You also claim that it can “narrow your hips by reducing fluid retention and smoothing out thickness in the connective tissue.” Oh, and my personal favorite, “Helps reduce upper-arm jiggle and increases tone in your triceps by stimulating lymph nodes in your armpits to flush out built-up toxins.”

You see, it’s disturbing that widespread companies, such as yourself, continue to fuel fitness myths and misconceptions. This is true even when there is a wealth of information instantaneously available to guide you to sound, evidence-based recommendations. I wonder, do you spread this misinformation because of laziness, terrible authors, or greed and profiteering from clicks on your page? All of the above?

I’m not surprised when a quick search of PubMed turns out a whopping ZERO returns for myofascial release (of any kind) and cellulite or fat loss. That’s probably because foam rolling is not, nor will it ever be, an effective intervention for combatting either scenario. I’m not sure where author Ms. Promaulayko found her information for her book, but it wasn’t from the collective pool of scientific knowledge that the rest of the health and wellness community utilizes. Let’s look at my above excerpts briefly one at a time:

  1. Smooth out cellulite – As already mentioned, no evidence to support this.
  2. Narrow hips by reducing fluid retention and smoothing out thickness of the connective tissue – SMR in the manner suggested would not have an effect on edema in the area (if you need edema protocols, I can email them to you), and research has shown that foam rolling has little to no effect on the IT band (the connective tissue you are referring to). Here’s some research.
  3. Reduce upper-arm jiggle and increase tone in your triceps by stimulating lymph nodes in your armpits to flush out built up toxins – Umm. Wow… Just no. I don’t even know where to start. Nothing about this is validated with evidence. None. Sorry.

Three strikes! You’re OUT!

For those reading that DO want to know about self-myofascial release (SMR), below is a summary of some things that we DO know. It is a summary from a fantastic review of the literature on foam rolling, and I suggest you read the article Does Foam Rolling and Self-Myofascial Release Really Work? by Chris Beardsley.

  • Preliminary evidence suggests that foam rolling may have a role in improving joint range of motion and flexibility. In this respect, it seems to be similarly effective as static stretching for this purpose. Additional trials need to be performed in order to confirm how long these improvements last.
  • The current evidence suggests that foam rolling does not adversely affect athletic performance measures, such as muscular strength, power, jumping and agility. Additionally, it seems that in this respect, foam rolling is superior to static stretching. Equally, preliminary results suggest that a dynamic warm-up has additional beneficial effects.
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that foam rolling may have a role in improving cardiovascular health. However, additional acute trials need to be performed in order to confirm these results and long-term trials need to be performed to assess whether the acute effects translate into chronic benefits.
  • There are indications that foam rolling appears to improve recovery post-workout by reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) temporarily.
  • The evidence is limited and slightly conflicting but it appears that foam rolling might well be able to improve flexibility long-term. More research is required in this area.

Also, Mike Robertson, MS, CSCS, put together a great comprehensive guide, Self-Myofascial Release: Purpose, Methods, and Techniques, which I highly recommend readers check out.

I hope the writers at SHAPE will find a way to allow science to enter their future works that they publish for the public. They have a broad reach, and with sound judgment and recommendations, they may actually have a significant difference on the health of their readers. Instead, we’re left with a terrible alternative.

Yours in health,

Steve Oswald, sDPT, CPT, PES, CES

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