Research Shows How to Boost Strength and Mobility

What science says about foam rolling, golf swings and bar speed

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Chris Beardsley is a co-founder of Strength and Conditioning Research, a monthly publication that summarizes the latest fitness research for strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and athletes. The views expressed herein are his.

Chris Beardsley—The fitness industry can be a confusing place, with many experts providing conflicting opinions. Scientific research is our best shot at providing objective and effective approaches to fitness. Studies likes these are essential reading for all strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and dedicated athletes.

"Strength and Conditioning Research" is a monthly review service that covers new and interesting scientific studies on fitness topics. The studies included help answer difficult questions about optimal fitness, training, and body transformation.

Here are the summarized results of three recent studies that were covered in the review and what these results mean for you.

Does Foam Rolling Help Improve Mobility?
Graham MacDonald and a team from the University of Newfoundland published a study showing that foam rolling can increase the mobility of the knee joints without impairing strength for later in a workout.

What did the researchers find?
The researchers found that when subjects used a foam roller on their legs before a workout, they were able to move their knee joint through a greater range of motion. However, unlike static stretching, which often causes reductions in strength, the researchers found that the foam rolling did not cause the subjects to lose strength when tested directly afterwards.

How does it work?
Restrictions in the fascia, the layers of connective tissue that lie between the muscles and the skin, can occur in response to injury, disease, inactivity, or inflammation. These restrictions can lead to fibrous adhesions, which cause a loss of mobility in and around joints. Foam rolling can help remove these fibrous adhesions by putting pressure on the soft-tissue.

What does it mean for you?
You can use foam rolling to improve your mobility before resistance training, knowing that it will not interfere with your strength.

Which Muscles Are Used in the Golf Swing?
Dr. Sergio Marta and others from the University of Lisbon recently reviewed a wide range of studies on the muscles that are used in a golf swing . It’s a useful look into the complex movement involved in popular sports, especially since it’s not obvious which muscles are key in differentiating a Tiger Woods-sized swing from a more pedestrian one.

What did the researchers find?
The researchers found that the key lower body muscle was the gluteus maximus (butt) while the key upper body muscles were the pectoralis major (chest), latissimus dorsi (back), core and forearm muscles.

How does it work?
The glute muscles are primarily responsible for end-range hip extension, which is exactly the short-range movement that is used in the golf swing, along with hip external rotation, which is the motion that occurs in the rear leg during the golf swing. The pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles are strong shoulder adductors and bring the arms across the body. The core muscles transmit the force of the lower body into the upper body and also help rotate the torso. The forearms transmit all of the forces into the club.

What does it mean for you?
If you want to improve your golf swing, it’s crucial to work your gluteus maximus (butt), pectoralis major (chest), latissimus dorsi (back), core, and forearms.

Does Bar Speed Affect Strength Gains?
A study by Dr. Johnny Padulo and others from the University of Rome found that a faster bar speed can lead to significantly better strength gains . Unfortunately, many people in the gym rarely give a thought to how fast the bar is moving when they are performing resistance exercise.

What did the researchers find?
The researchers tested two groups of subjects following three weeks of bench press training. Each subject performed the exercise twice per week. One group used a fixed, fast speed and the other group worked at self-selected speeds, which were typically much slower. The researchers found that the fixed-speed group improved their maximum bench press weight on average by 10 percent while the self-selected speed group did not improve at all.

How does it work?
The researchers were unsure about exactly how the faster bar speed led to better results. It may be because the faster speed allowed more high-threshold motor units to be recruited. Alternatively, it may have just been a new stimulus for the muscles.

What does it mean for you?
If you have mainly been working at self-selected speeds in your resistance training, you may find that incorporating some faster sets could lead to significant improvements in strength.

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