The Effects of a Preconditioning Rolling Session on Subsequent Eccentric Exercise–Induced Muscle Damage : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research

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The Effects of a Preconditioning Rolling Session on Subsequent Eccentric Exercise–Induced Muscle Damage

West, Jonathan T.; Miller, William M.; Jeon, Sunggun; Ye, Xin

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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 34(8):p 2112-2119, August 2020. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003678
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West, JT, Miller, WM, Jeon, S, and Ye, X. The effects of a preconditioning rolling session on subsequent eccentric exercise–induced muscle damage. J Strength Cond Res 34(8): 2112–2119, 2020—The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a preexercise unilateral quadriceps muscle rolling intervention on subsequent ipsilateral (IPSI) or contralateral (CTRA) knee extension eccentric exercise–induced muscle damage. Twenty-seven healthy volunteers (14 men) underwent an eccentric exercise protocol (6 sets of 10 repetitions with 75% of the maximal isometric strength) with a single-leg knee extension machine. Before the eccentric exercise, the subjects were randomly assigned to either (a) IPSI group: rolling the ipsilateral knee extensor muscles, (b) CTRA: rolling the contralateral muscles, or (c) Control: sitting for 6 minutes (same duration as the rolling intervention protocol) relaxed. The muscle soreness, passive knee extension range of motion, and knee extension isometric strength were measured before, immediately, 24 hours, and 48 hours after exercise. The magnitudes of the range of motion decrement were attenuated in both the IPSI (p = 0.031) and CTRA (p = 0.014) groups 24 hours after the eccentric exercise, when compared with the control. Isometric strength (p = 0.783) and muscle soreness (p = 0.586) responses were not significantly different among the 3 groups (time points and sexes merged). Additionally, women displayed an overall faster recovery than men in isometric strength (p = 0.001) and muscle soreness (p = 0.024), evidenced by the measurements at 48 hours after exercise. Our study suggests that unilateral quadriceps rolling intervention before high-intensity muscle-damaging exercise has a beneficial effect on maintaining range of motion in both the ipsilateral and contralateral muscles.


Rolling intervention such as foam rolling has been shown to be effective in improving flexibility and reducing muscle pain sensation (31). Comparing with other warm-up components such as static planking (16), and static and dynamic stretching (28), this type of intervention can provide similar or even enhanced results in some performance parameters such as improved range of motion (ROM). It has been reported that rolling intervention increases acute ROM not only in the intervened limbs (3,5,16,28) but also in the nonintervened limbs (1,4,18,19). For example, Kelly and Beardsley (18) found that rolling the unilateral ankle dorsiflexors induced an increase in ROM of the contralateral limb for 10 minutes after the intervention. Additionally, recent studies have also found that the unilateral rolling increased contralateral passive knee flexion ROM without affecting the maximal strength (19) but impaired the subjects' ability to generate explosive force immediately after the intervention (33).

As an effective warm-up strategy, rolling intervention is also useful in accelerating the recovery of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (20,23), which is usually caused by high-intensity unaccustomed eccentric exercises (17). The DOMS manifests in 1 to 3 days after intense exercise and generally disappears approximately 5–10 days after exercise (7). It is characterized by the subjective sensation of soreness and is usually accompanied by prolonged decrements in both ROM and muscle strength (17). Thus, the decrements of these parameters negatively affect the subsequent exercise performance, as well as the exercises or competitions scheduled days after. In addition, the presence of DOMS also increases one's risk of injury before engaging in subsequent sporting events or exercises (26). Therefore, it is critical to accelerate recovery from exercise-induced DOMS symptoms.

Among the 3 types of muscle contractions (concentric/eccentric/isometric), repetitive eccentric contractions have been shown to elicit muscle damage (6,14,21,24). A high-intensity exercise protocol, such as unaccustomed eccentric muscle contractions, can induce exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). Indirectly, EIMD is determined via measuring ROM, strength, soreness, and tissue swelling, whereas direct EIMD markers include invasive measurements such as plasma creatine kinase and protein concentrations (22). Typically, rolling intervention is used after intensive exercises, and specifically, it can decrease perceived soreness when applied immediately or the days after exercise (12,20,23). For example, MacDonald et al. (20) had their subjects perform rolling intervention immediately, 24, 48, and 72 hours after the muscle-damaging protocol, and they found that rolling intervention accelerated recovery from the indirect EIMD indicators, specifically in muscle soreness and both passive and dynamic ROM at 48 and 72 hours after the exercise session. Additionally, it was also shown that performance parameters (e.g., sprint speed, agility, broad jump, and pain pressure threshold) were positively affected by the rolling intervention 48 hours after the muscle-damaging protocol (23).

Although there is research regarding how rolling intervention accelerates the recovery of EIMD when applied after high-intensity exercise protocols, there is very limited information on the effects of rolling intervention on muscle damage markers when it is applied before an intensive exercise. Specifically, considering that rolling intervention is still widely used as a warm-up method before exercise or sporting activities, it would be interesting to examine whether a preconditioning rolling intervention protocol could influence the EIMD after a high-intensity muscle-damaging exercise. To our knowledge, no study has examined this before. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a quadriceps rolling intervention before a high-intensity muscle-damaging eccentric exercise on the responses of indirect muscle damage markers, such as the muscle soreness, passive ROM, and isometric strength. In addition, considering the potential contralateral effects observed in previous studies (1,4,18,19,33), we also aimed to examine if rolling intervention on the nonexercised unilateral muscles could influence the EIMD responses in the contralateral muscles (received the damaging protocol). Finally, considering the sex-related differences in response to eccentric exercise (10,25,27), we aimed to examine if men and women respond differently under the current interventions. Findings from the current study may be applicable in athletic and exercise settings, where preconditioning rolling intervention protocols may be incorporated as a warm-up before intensive eccentric exercise workouts.


Experimental Approach to the Problem

A between-group design was used to examine whether performing a preconditioning rolling intervention before a knee extension muscle-damaging eccentric exercise protocol can influence the subsequent muscle damage markers' responses. Before the experimental visit, the subjects were randomly assigned to 1 of the 3 groups: (a) ipsilateral group (IPSI), where the rolling would be performed on the same thigh that would receive the damaging protocol; (b) contralateral group (CTRA), where the rolling would be performed on the contralateral side of the thigh that would receive the damaging protocol; and (c) control group, where the subjects sat and relaxed for 6 minutes without rolling before the muscle-damaging protocol. The muscle-damaging protocol was delivered to the dominant or nondominant knee extensors in a randomized fashion. This was to ensure that limb dominance was not having an affect on answering the research question(s). The limb dominance was determined by asking the subjects which foot they preferred to kick a soccer ball. Before (Pre) the rolling intervention, immediately after (Post), 24 hours after (Post24), and 48 hours after (Post48) the muscle-damaging protocol, muscle damage markers (dependent variables: muscle soreness; passive knee extension ROM, and knee extension isometric muscle strength) were measured.


A total of 27 healthy young adults (control: n = 8; IPSI: n = 10; CTRA: n = 9) participated in and completed this study (Table 1). Before participation, written consent was obtained via the consent form. All subjects also completed 2 preexercise questionnaires, indicating that they were ready to engage in exercise and had no current or previous neuromuscular and musculoskeletal disorders in the lower body. In addition, all subjects were instructed to refrain from any resistance exercises during the entire study period and to maintain all their normal routines, such as dietary intake, hydration, and sleep, for the duration of their participation. This study was approved by the University of Mississippi Institutional Review Board (approval code: 19-082). Before the start of the data collection, each subject was randomly assigned to 1 of the 3 groups described above using (Dublin, Ireland).

Table 1:
Mean ± SD of the subjects’ characteristics and their baseline (prerolling) isometric strength values.


The first visit to the laboratory was to familiarize the subjects with the testing procedures and exercise interventions. During this visit, the subjects' standing height and body mass were measured. The subjects then were instructed to sit on a plate-loaded leg extension machine (Steelflex PLLE 200; Steelflex Fitness, Taipei, Taiwan) and to practice knee extension maximal voluntary isometric contractions (MVICs). With the Velcro belt strapped around the upper thigh, the subjects were asked to extend the tested ankle (predetermined randomly) against the ankle pad as fast as they could and then as hard as possible to produce maximal explosive force. The pad was secured firmly to the knee extension machine frame with chains, and a load cell (Model SSM-AJ-500; Interface, Scottsdale, AZ) was connected through the chains to measure the isometric force generated by the subjects (Figure 1). At least 3 maximal trials were performed by the subjects. Once this procedure was completed, the subjects were then familiarized with the muscle-damaging eccentric exercise protocol. Finally, the research staff demonstrated one rolling intervention set to the subjects who were assigned to the intervention groups (IPSI and CTRA). Once the familiarization was completed, the subjects were asked to return to the laboratory for the experimental visits for any 3 consecutive days at roughly the same time each visit.

Figure 1.:
The set up for knee extension maximal isometric strength testing.

During the first experimental testing visit (visit 2), the subjects returned to the laboratory where pretesting muscle damage markers were measured in the following order: muscle soreness, passive knee extension ROM, and knee extension isometric strength. If assigned to either the IPSI or the CTRA group, a 6-minute foam rolling intervention was then performed on the subjects' quadriceps muscles, with a total of 6 sets: 2 on the medial portion, 2 on the anterior portion, and 2 on the lateral portion of the thigh. Each set consisted of a forty-second undulating rolling followed by a twenty-second rest period. Before the rolling intervention, the subjects sat on a bench, with the leg receiving the rolling intervention relaxed and extended all the way to the edge of the bench, and the other foot rested on the floor. In addition, the subjects extended both arms to the back so the hands could be placed on the bench to help balance the upper body (Figure 2). With this position, the research staff started the rolling intervention from the medial thigh, followed by the anterior thigh, and then finally to the lateral thigh. Once this cycle was completed, the second cycle with same manner would then be initiated. A roller stick (TheraBand Roller Massager; TheraBand, Akron, OH) was used for each rolling intervention, with the precalculated weight (20% of body weight) hanging on both sides of the stick. A previous investigation by Bradbury-Squires et al. (3) applied a similar rolling method except applying 25% of body mass to the rolling device. After pilot testing the rolling intervention for the current study, it was found that 25% of the body mass caused tremendous pain and discomfort; thus, the weight was lowered to 20% of the body mass, where most of the pilot subjects could tolerate the rolling intervention with slight discomfort (3). During each rolling set, the thigh placement was adjusted by asking the subjects to point their toes “out” for set 1 (medial), “up” for set 2 (anterior), and “in” for set 3 (lateral). The research staff always started distally (from the knee area) and would then slowly roll the stick to the most proximal portion of the thigh over a 4-second time span and then repeated, moving back to the starting position. This was performed for 40 seconds each set, for a total of 5 rolls moving up and 5 rolls moving down on the thigh. A metronome was used to provide rolling tempo for the research staff during the entire intervention.

Figure 2.:
A demonstration of the unilateral rolling intervention at the anterior thigh position. The weights (20% of the subjects' body mass) were added on both sides of the rolling stick. The research staff only moved the rolling stick back and forth without applying any downward vertical force to the subject's thigh.

After the rolling intervention (IPSI, CTRA) or control, all subjects would then receive the muscle-damaging protocol, which consisted of 6 sets of 10 eccentric knee extension exercises performed with the knee extension machine (Steelflex PLLE 200; Steelflex Fitness). During the eccentric exercise, the subjects' upper thighs were strapped to the frame of the machine, to minimize movement of the hips. Additionally, the subjects' exercising ankle was strapped to the ankle pad to ensure that it could be passively lifted during the ascending (concentric) portion of the exercise. Based on our pilot testing, the exercise load was set to 75% of the subjects' highest MVIC during the first visit (familiarization) to elicit the optimal muscle damage responses. The research staff lifted the weights for a 2-second upward phase to a position where the subject's knee was fully extended and then released the weight so the subjects could lower the weight with the controlled manner for a 2-second time interval. To ensure that both the research staff and the subjects could follow the exercise rhythm, a metronome was used. After each set, the subjects were given a 60-second rest, so they could stand up and walk around. At the end of each eccentric exercise set, a Borg Scale of perceived exertion (6–20) (2) was used to assess each subject's ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) during exercise. Immediately, 24 hours, and 48 hours after the eccentric exercise, indirect muscle-damaging markers were assessed with the exact same manner and order as they were measured during the pretesting.

Measurements and Data Analyses

Muscle Soreness (Visual Analog Scale)

Muscle soreness was assessed using a 100-mm visual analog scale (VAS). The VAS scale shows “No soreness” on the far-left side and “Unbearable pain” on the far-right side. Subjects were asked to flex and extend the leg (that received the damaging protocol) several times and to mark a vertical line on the VAS scale at the location representing their current soreness level from the knee extensor muscles.

Passive Knee Extension Range of Motion

The passive knee flexion ROM was measured with a Baseline Bubble inclinometer (Fabrication Enterprises Inc., White Plains, NY) placed on the tested heel of each subject. The subjects were asked to lay prone on a medical table with their feet hanging completely off the table. The research staff would then slowly lift the ankle of the tested leg to fold the knee. With a completely relaxed position, the subjects notified the investigator when they felt a stretch or tension from their quadriceps muscle. Approximately 2–6 trials were conducted until 2 values within 2 degrees were obtained (19). The passive knee flexion ROM was then calculated as the average of the trials.

Knee Extension Isometric Strength

For the knee extension isometric strength testing, the subjects performed 3 MVICs with a 60-second rest between consecutive trials. A load cell (Model SSM-AJ-500; Interface) was used to measure the isometric force generated by the knee extension contraction. Specifically, one end of the load cell was connected to the lever of the ankle pad, and the other end of the load cell was connected to the backside of the knee extension machine through a steel chain. Before any contraction, the knee extension machine was adjusted so that the subject's back was upright, and the knee was bent approximately at 75°. Additionally, the ankle pad was adjusted to the subjects' most comfortable position, and the back and ankle positions were also recorded to ensure that they were consistent over the 4 visits. The subjects' upper thighs were strapped in with a Velcro belt to minimize any hip movements. Before the 3 MVICs, subjects performed several warm-up contractions with 50% of their maximal effort. During each MVIC, the investigator counted down from 3 and then verbally encouraged the subjects with a “push, push, push” until it was time for them to relax. The subjects were instructed to extend the leg into the pad as fast and hard as they could for 3 seconds. Once the strength testing was completed, the offline force signal was then digitized with a 12-bit analogue-to-digital converter (Model USB-6259; National Instruments, Austin, TX) and stored in the laboratory personal computer (Dell XPS 8900, Round Rock, TX) for further analyses. For each 3-second MVIC, the peak 1-second window was chosen and then calculated as the maximal force output, and the highest value of the 3 peak values was selected as the maximal knee extension isometric strength and used for further analysis.

Statistical Analyses

Test-retest reliability for isometric strength was calculated between the value from the familiarization visit and the preexercise value from the second visit by determining the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) using Model “3,1” (30). In addition, our laboratory has demonstrated good reliability scores (r > 0.90) for passive ROM measurements (33).

Assumptions for normality of distribution for dependent variables were checked and confirmed using the Shapiro-Wilk test. The baseline (prevalues during the second visit) dependent variables were examined with separate 2-way (group [Control vs. IPSI vs. CTRA] × sex [men vs. women]) analysis of variance tests (ANOVAs) for potential sex or group differences. No interaction or group main effects were present for all 3 dependent variables, but there was a significant main effect for sex (p = 0.002) for the knee extension isometric strength (Table 1). Thus, relative isometric strength (value normalized with the prevalue during the second visit) and the absolute changes (Δ: Post-Pre; Post24-Pre; Post48-Pre) for the passive knee extension ROM and VAS were calculated for further statistical analyses. Specifically, separate 3-way (time [Pre vs. Post vs. Post24 vs. Post48] × group [Control vs. IPSI vs. CTRA] × sex [men vs. women]) mixed factorial ANOVAs were conducted to examine the responses of all dependent variables across time among groups and sexes. Finally, a 3-way (set [set 1 vs. set 2 vs. set 3 vs. set 4 vs. set 5 vs. set 6] × group [Control vs. IPSI vs. CTRA] × sex [men vs. women]) mixed factorial ANOVA was also conducted to examine potential changes in RPE across all 6 sets. The partial η2 statistic is provided for all repeated measure comparisons, with values of 0.01, 0.06, and 0.14 corresponding to small, medium, and large effect sizes, respectively (9). All statistical tests were conducted using statistical software (IBM SPSS Statistics 25.0; IBM, Armonk, NY) with alpha set at 0.05. The data were presented as mean ± SD.


Test-Retest Reliability

The ICC for knee extension isometric strength was reliable, with r = 0.94 (standard error of measurement = 38.9 N) and no significant differences (p = 0.637) between the familiarization visit and the experimental visit.

Muscle Soreness (Visual Analog Scale)

The results from the 3-way ANOVA showed that there were no significant sex × group × time (F = 1.090; p = 0.378; partial η2 = 0.094) or group × time (F = 2.023; p = 0.076; partial η2 = 0.162) interactions nor main effects for group (F = 0.548; p = 0.586; partial η2 = 0.050) and sex (F = 0.339; p = 0.567; partial η2 = 0.016). However, there was a significant 2-way sex × time interaction (F = 6.146; p = 0.001; partial η2 = 0.226) and a main effect for time (F = 29.158; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.581) for the ΔVAS. Thus, after collapsing across groups, the follow-up independent samples t-tests indicated that the ΔVAS values were significantly greater for women than for men at Post (p = 0.011; Figure 3) but significantly lower for women than for men at Post48 (p = 0.024; Figure 3). In addition, for both sexes, the 1-way repeated measures ANOVAs indicated significant differences for ΔVAS values among 4 time points (men: F = 29.460; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.694; women: F = 8.282; p = 0.003; partial η2 = 0.408; Figure 3).

Figure 3.:
Mean (SD) of the men's and women's magnitude of changes in the visual analog scale (VAS) (groups merged). Pre: before rolling intervention; post: immediately after eccentric exercise; Post24: 24 hours after eccentric exercise; Post48: 48 hours after eccentric exercise. *Significant sex difference (p < 0.05).

Passive Knee Extension Range of Motion

The 3-way ANOVA showed that there were no significant sex × group × time (F = 0.781; p = 0.588; partial η2 = 0.069) or sex × time (F = 0.484; p = 0.694; partial η2 = 0.023) interactions nor main effects for group (F = 2.674; p = 0.092; partial η2 = 0.203), sex (F = 0.387; p = 0.541; partial η2 = 0.018), and time (F = 1.249; p = 0.300; partial η2 = 0.056). However, there was a significant 2-way group × time interaction (F = 2.344; p = 0.040; partial η2 = 0.163) for the ΔROM. Thus, after collapsing across sexes, the follow-up 1-way ANOVAs indicated that the ΔROM values were significantly different among the 3 groups at Post24 (F = 4.662; p = 0.019; Figure 4). Post Hoc tests showed that the ΔROM values were significantly more negative for the control than for both the IPSI (p = 0.031) and the CTRA (p = 0.014). In addition, for all 3 groups, only the control showed significant differences for the ΔROM values among 4 time points (F = 5.293; p = 0.007; partial η2 = 0.431; Figure 4).

Figure 4.:
Group comparisons of the magnitude of the absolute changes in the passive knee extension range of motion (sexes merged). Pre: before rolling intervention; post: immediately after eccentric exercise; Post24: 24 hours after eccentric exercise; Post48: 48 hours after eccentric exercis. *Significant difference (p < 0.05) between control group and ipsilateral (IPSI) group. †Significant difference (p < 0.05) between control group and contralateral (CTRA) group.

Knee Extension Isometric Strength

The 3-way ANOVA showed that there were no significant sex × group × time (F = 1.254; p = 0.291; partial η2 = 0.107) or group × time (F = 0.128; p = 0.992; partial η2 = 0.012) interactions nor main effects for group (F = 0.248; p = 0.783; partial η2 = 0.023) and sex (F = 3.921; p = 0.061; partial η2 = 0.157). However, there was a significant sex × time interaction (F = 2.853; p = 0.044; partial η2 = 0.120) and a main effect for time (F = 11.834; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.360) for the relative knee extension isometric strength. Thus, after collapsing across groups, the follow-up independent samples t-tests indicated that the isometric strength was significantly greater for women than for men at Post48 time point (p = 0.001; Figure 5). In addition, for both sexes, the 1-way repeated measures ANOVAs indicated significant differences for isometric strength values among 4 time points (men: F = 7.612; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.369; women: F = 8.332; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.410; Figure 5).

Figure 5.:
Mean (SD) of the men's and women's relative knee extension isometric strength responses (groups merged). Pre: before rolling intervention; Post: immediately after eccentric exercise; Post24: 24 hours after eccentric exercise; Post48: 48 hours after eccentric exercise. *Significant sex difference (p < 0.05).

Ratings of Perceived Exertion

The 3-way ANOVA showed that there were no significant 3-way or 2-way interactions, but there was a main effect for time (F = 55.261; p < 0.001; partial η2 = 0.725), showing that the RPE values significantly increased throughout all 6 sets of eccentric exercise.


This study aimed to examine whether a preexercise quadriceps rolling intervention could influence the subsequent high-intensity eccentric EIMD in men and women. In addition, we also aimed to examine the potential crossover effects of the contralateral rolling intervention on the responses of the ipsilateral muscles' indirect muscle damage markers. The main findings of this study are (a) relative to the control group where the subjects experienced prolonged eccentric exercise–induced decrements in ROM, subjects from both IPSI and CTRA groups did not experience the decreased ROM; (b) postexercise muscle strength and soreness responses were not different among the 3 groups; and (c) women overall (groups merged) had faster recoveries in strength and muscle soreness than men did.

Previously, the effects of rolling intervention on the recovery of high-intensity resistance EIMD have been examined (12,20,23). Our finding on the IPSI group ROM is generally in line with MacDonald et al. (20), where rolling interventions imposed a moderate effect on increasing ROM 48 and 72 hours after the exercise, when compared with the control group. It is important, however, to note that our experimental design was different from the previous studies (12,20,23): instead of applying the rolling intervention after the high-intensity exercise session and the follow-up testing days, we only applied one rolling intervention before the eccentric exercise. In addition, to ensure that the constant load was applied on the subjects' muscles, a standardized load was delivered by the research staff. This means that each subject might have perceived the rolling pressure differently. Interestingly, the rolling intervention seemed to impose a long-lasting effect on maintaining the ROM, as compared with the control group. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that a preexercise unilateral rolling intervention influences both the IPSI and CTRA limb ROM responses after the high-intensity eccentric exercise.

Because a crossover effect was observed, it is reasonable to speculate that unilateral rolling intervention could have induced changes at the spinal level and/or supraspinal level, influencing the ROM at nonlocal body sites such as the contralateral limb (1,4,18,19,33). Wiewelhove et al. (31) proposed that the pressure from the rolling intervention may activate the Golgi tendon organs and mechanoreceptors within the muscle, thereby inducing autogenic inhibition. These mechanoreceptors send afferent signals to the central nervous system while the muscle is under substantial tension, ultimately allowing the central nervous system to relax the muscle and prevent injury (31). Yet, this does not explain why rolling intervention had an effect on ROM at Post24 because autogenic inhibition usually occurs while the tension is applied to the muscle and stops when the muscle is no longer under pressure. Another possible explanation is the increased stretch tolerance, which was likely induced by the substantial pressure from the rolling intervention. Specifically, the pressure from the undulating rolling may overload skin receptors, decrease pain perception, and therefore increase stretch tolerance (11,18,31). Afferent feedback from skin receptors to the central pain-modulatory systems may provide an analgesic effect (1), thereby increasing stretch tolerance in both the intervened and the nonintervened contralateral muscles. Additionally, it is worth noting that the preexercise rolling might have increased blood flow to the quadriceps muscles, which could have played a role in hastening recovery by promoting blood flow to the quadriceps region (20). Specifically, this could be a potential reason that IPSI group had attenuated decreased ROM following the eccentric exercise. Yet, this still does not explain why the CTRA group displayed similar attenuations in passive ROM. In the current study, even though the rolling intervention was applied only before the eccentric exercise, our intervention was probably more intense when compared with the interventions from previous studies (12,20,23). This could be a reason for the prolonged ROM effect, but our current data are limited to provide further detailed explanations. It will be up to future investigators to study the potential differential effects of various preexercise rolling volume or intensity(s) on the EIMD.

Our results of muscle soreness revealed that the soreness level did not respond differently after both rolling interventions, as compared with the control group. This is different from the results of the previous research (12,20,23). For example, MacDonald et al. (20) found that rolling intervention alleviated muscle soreness at all postexercise time points, especially demonstrating large treatment effects 48 and 72 hours after the exercise. Drinkwater et al. (12) also found that the pressure-pain threshold was positively affected (i.e., enhanced pain tolerance) after rolling intervention, specifically at 48 hours after the exercise. As mentioned, the different experimental design we had in the current study might have contributed to the different findings. In addition, it is also worth mentioning that our result did find a large group × time interaction effect (p = 0.076; partial η2 = 0.162). However, it is difficult to determine which group(s) might have received a relatively more positive effect on muscle soreness.

Another finding from the current experiment is that women's muscle soreness levels seemed to respond differently than men did. Specifically, women rated greater muscle soreness after the eccentric exercise but less soreness 48 hours after exercise, in comparison to men's soreness ratings. This was aligned with the sex-related difference in isometric strength responses observed at the Post48 time point, which further confirms the faster recovery rate in women than in men. Dannecker et al. (10) found that the pain scale increment in women was less than that in men throughout the days after eccentric exercise on the biceps brachii. This might be due to EIMD causing no difference in myofibril structure damage between sexes, but the inflammatory response is less severe after the eccentric exercise in women compared with men (27). Because the eccentric exercise–induced inflammation is one of the primary reasons for the development of muscle soreness (8), it is likely that the less severe inflammatory response in women than in men was a primary reason for their faster recovery in muscle soreness level. However, it will be up to future studies to incorporate the measurements of the inflammatory response, such as the blood levels of creatine kinase and myoglobin. In terms of the muscle soreness level immediately after exercise, why women reported more soreness than men did remains unclear, but it might be the result of the type of eccentric exercise performed in the current study. Greenspan et al. (15) suggested that muscle pain confined to a single body region is more apparent in women than in men. The current study examined only the knee extensor muscles, which may explain the more severe localized soreness experienced by women immediately after exercise, as compared with men. Future studies examining EIMD caused by single-joint vs. multijoint movement exercise will help further explore this possibility.

There were several limitations of this study which need to be mentioned. First and foremost, the current warm-up intervention only included the rolling component, which is different from most of the standard warm-up procedures, during which stretching, running, and jumping components may be used. Thus, caution needs to be taken when directly applying the results of the current experiment to the practical field. Future research is warranted to examine the effects of adding the rolling intervention to a standard warm-up protocol. Second, we allowed the subjects to stand up and walk around between the rolling sets, which might have provided additional blood flow stimulus to the tested muscle. This, in turn, could have possibly influenced the results of the study. Third, we reported sex-related differences in isometric strength and muscle soreness, but we did not control for the menstrual cycle of the female subjects. Estrogen has been found to impact the immune system and the effects of EIMD in both humans and animals (13,29). Finally, the sample size that was retained for analysis was dissimilar for the male and female groups, leaving some of the results at risk of type 2 error. In conclusion, a unilateral quadriceps rolling intervention before a bout of muscle-damaging eccentric exercise attenuated the decrements in both ipsilateral and contralateral intervened knee extension ROMs. However, the knee extension strength and muscle soreness responses were not altered by the rolling intervention, relative to the control group. Regarding the sex-related differences in response of eccentric exercise, women recovered faster than men in both strength and muscle soreness ratings, but this was not mediated by the rolling intervention.

Practical Applications

The decreased joint ROM along with the increased muscle stiffness is an important risk factor for injury in professional sports and exercise training (32). Individuals (both athletic and normal healthy populations) who perform a bout of high-intensity resistance exercise are likely to experience a prolonged decrement in muscle flexibility, thereby increasing their susceptibility to injury. Our findings provide some potentially valuable information for these populations and practitioners such as coaches and trainers: incorporating a preexercise rolling intervention into the warm-up protocol may help alleviate the high-intensity resistance EIMD, especially the prolonged decrements in muscle flexibility. Therefore, this may prevent injury and accelerate recovery after the intensive exercises. To maximize the potential of rolling intervention in recovery, future research may take advantage of the findings from the current and previous studies (12,20,23), to apply specific rolling interventions before and after intensive resistance exercise.


The authors thank all the subjects who took the time to assist with this project. This research study was conducted in the Neuromuscular Laboratory at The University of Mississippi. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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range of motion; ipsilateral; crossover; contralateral; sex difference

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