How to Use a Foam Roller

If you don’t use a foam roller to stretch your muscles, prepare for workouts or cool down after training, then you’re missing out.

Foam Rollers

Before I started to use my foam roller, I thought it was just a fad and that a simple stretch would do the same thing. Oh, how wrong I was! Since regularly using mine, I suffer much less soreness, and my mobility and range of motion has increased dramatically.

They’re great pieces of equipment that really benefit the body in many ways. If you’re not too sure how to use a foam roller, then you’ve come to the right place!

Five quick steps on how to use a foam roller:

  1. Locate the area in which you have muscle tightness (known as trigger points). 
  2. Rest your body against the foam roller, ensuring it’s focused on the targeted area.
  3. Press into the foam roller, relieving pressure but not reaching a point of pain.
  4. Hold the position for no longer than 30 seconds. 
  5. Move your body over the roller and slowly roll over the targeted area back and forth.

What Is a Foam Roller? 

A foam roller is pretty self-explanatory in its name, although I didn’t know exactly what it was before I started using one.

It’s a rolling device, which is usually made from foam but has its core removed.

There are numerous types of foam rollers, which help with targeting different areas of the body:

  • Smooth rollers.
  • Textured rollers.
  • Foam-covered massage sticks.
  • Foam massage balls.
  • Vibrating foam roller.

Smooth Rollers

They have a smooth and dense surface area, which is great for people who are new to using foam rollers. They aren’t intense and have an even texture. 

They’re usually the cheapest foam rollers on the market as they’re the most universal. 

Textured Rollers

Textured rollers have rigid bumps and knobs on them, spread out across the surface. They’re ideal for working deep into the muscle area and targeting those sore trigger points, but can be painful to use at first until you get used to the pressured feeling.

They help to work out tension, stress and those painful knots and trigger points in the body.

Foam-Covered Massage Sticks

These work deep into the muscle and are usually best for massaging your lower back and legs.

Foam Massage Balls

Used to target specific areas due to their small size, they’re great for working deep into knots in muscles. They’re especially great for the shoulder area. 

Vibrating Foam Roller

Vibrating foam rollers are battery operated and vibrate when switched on. The vibrations help to reach further into the muscle areas, releasing tension and relieving pressure. 

Foam roller

Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

There are several benefits that foam rolling has for the body:

  • Keeping the fascia healthy.
  • Ease pain.
  • Increase range of motion.
  • Manage fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Relax and reduce stress levels.

Keeping the Fascia Healthy

All muscles are connected by fascia, which is the connective tissue that runs throughout the body. Fascia can become unhealthy through overuse, repetitive movement or injury. 

Foam rolling helps to keep fascia healthy, improving the circulation of fresh oxygenated blood through it.

If you do suffer from Plantar Fasciitis then be sure to check out our guide on the causes and remedies of Plantar Fasciitis and also our recommended shoes

Ease Pain

Foam rolling helps to reduce inflammation in muscles and ease the pain that comes with it, especially when used immediately after exercise, as shown in one small study

The study showed that people experienced significantly less muscle pain when they used a muscle roller straight after completing exercises, compared to those who used it many hours later or not at all.

They were also able to perform better in future exercises and activities than the other participants in the study.

Increase your Range of Motion

One study showed that a combination of static stretching and a foam roller is the best combination for increasing the motion range for movement and exercise. 

Having a wide range will increase your overall training performance and increase recovery times.

Manage Symptoms of Fibromyalgia 

Foam rolling is used with positive results when treating fibromyalgia. 

Research was done on a group of 66 adults, each living with fibromyalgia. Those who used a foam roller showed significant improvement in their pain intensity, fatigue, stiffness and depression, compared to those who didn’t use one.

These results are clearly impressive, although I appreciate that more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of using a foam roller in treating fibromyalgia. 

If you do suffer from fibromyalgia, please check out this great resource here, on how CBD oil could help alleviate your symptoms. Given the benefits of CBD products, you may want to consider the use of CBD balm alongside your foam rolling efforts, to help relieve your aches and pains.

Relax and Reduce Stress Levels 

Foam rolling has a similar effect to receiving a massage from a physiotherapist or yoga. It relaxes the muscles in the body, which also helps to calm the mind and relieve tension.

It’s definitely a cheaper alternative, so if you enjoy frequent health massages, consider opting for a foam roller instead. 

How to Use a Foam Roller in Different Areas of the Body

I’ve put together some instructions on how to use the roller for each part of your body, so you can be sure you’re using it safely and effectively. 

If you’re a yoga fan, you’ll notice that some of the positions are the same. And for those who like a core workout you’ll undoubtedly notice the similarities to planking.

Front Area of the Thighs

  1. Get yourself into the upward-facing dog position, placing the foam roller underneath your thighs. Your toes should touch the floor.
  2. Place your hands on the floor, pressing into them.
  3. Move your body back and forth, so that the foam roller massages your quadriceps. 
Foam rolling in action

Back Area of the Thighs and Calves

  1. Position the roller underneath the back of your calves or thighs.
  2. While keeping your heel up and off the floor, straighten your leg.
  3. Slip into the reverse plank by pressing your hands into the floor and lifting your buttocks upwards.
  4. As you move your body over the roller, it’ll massage the calves or thighs—depending on where you’ve placed it at the beginning.

Sides of The Thighs

If the tension is on a particular side, place the foam roller underneath the outside of the thigh.

  1. Straighten out your leg, pointing your toes out in the same direction. You’re targeting your quadriceps, your outer thigh and your IT band whilst doing this move.
  2. Pressing onto your hands, move your body, so that you’re rolling back and forth and feel the foam roller massaging along the side of your leg. Make sure you take care to move along both the outer thigh and the IT band
  3. Switch sides, repeating the same on your other leg. 

Upper Back

  1. Laying down, position the roller underneath the upper back.
  2. Lay your arms out straight, and bend your legs at the knee.
  3. Pressing into your hands and feet, slip into the bridge pose by lifting your butt off of the floor.
  4. Then as you’re rolling back and forth the foam roller will massage the upper back area. 

Using a foam roller for the upper back will help relieve tension in the shoulder blades and in the lower neck area, too. 

Lower Back

Similar to the previous manoeuvre, but with less height.

  1. Position the foam roller under the lower back while lying down.
  2. Bend your legs at the knee and your arms at the elbow.
  3. Raise your buttocks slightly from the floor, and roll back and forth to allow the foam roller to massage the targeted area. 

If you’re looking for an in-depth guide on massage therapy for lower back pain then click here

Buttocks

If you’re a regular cycler or enjoy doing squats in the gym, you’ll have experienced the pain and discomfort associated with tension and stiffness in the glutes.

  1. To relieve the stress, bend your legs so that your feet are flat against the floor.
  2. Position the foam roller underneath your buttocks.
  3. Massage the buttocks by moving back and forth across the foam roller. 

Feet

Everybody loves a nice foot massage, especially after a hard day’s work or a long run. 

  1. Stand up for this one, placing the foam roller underneath the foot arch of one foot.
  2. Apply pressure with your foot and then slowly roll your foot back and forth across the roller
  3. To increase the pressure, hold on to something that will hold your weight and that you can balance against.
  4. Switch sides, repeating the same on the other foot. 

Triceps

  1. Lay down on your side, and position the foam roller underneath your armpit.
  2. Stretch your arm above you, bringing it parallel to your body.
  3. Slowly roll back and forth, allowing the roller to massage deep into your triceps.
  4. When you’re done, repeat the process on the other arm.

Chest

This particular position can be a little uncomfortable. If you do experience trouble with this manoeuvre, avoid it and stick to stationary stretching of the pecs instead. 

  1. Lay face down.
  2. Position the foam roller across one side of the chest.
  3. Slowly roll from side to side, allowing the roller to massage the pecs and chest area.
  4. Spend extra time on any tender spots you come across.
  5. Repeat on the other side of the chest.

Hip Flexors

  1. Lay on the floor on your stomach.
  2. Spread your legs outwards, positioning the foam roller underneath one hip.
  3. Roll back and forth, allowing the roller to roll from your hip to the knee and back again.
  4. Push down against any tender spots that you find and hold it there for around 30 seconds.
  5. Switch sides after a minute, so you aren’t placing too much pressure on your hips for long periods. 

Spine, Ribs and Sternum (Breastbone)

It’s important that you don’t place too much pressure on the spine during this process to avoid injury. However, it’s great for relaxing the body and freeing tension in the middle area of your torso.

  1. Lay on your back, placing your feet flat on the ground so that they’re in-line with your shoulders.
  2. Place the foam roller vertically across your back and below the shoulder blades so that it’s sitting along your spine between the shoulders and the buttocks.
  3. Keep your buttocks on the ground, and extend your arms outwards, so they form a 45-degree angle to your shoulders.
  4. Stretch your arms back and forth, to allow pressure to be placed on the spine and release any tension. 

If this feels too painful—stop!

Neck

You’ll feel the roller massaging into your neck muscles, relieving tension and stiffness as you move.

  1. Lay on your back, ensuring the surface is flat and even.
  2. Place the foam roller underneath your neck vertically, so it mimics the position of a pillow.
  3. Placing your hands on your hips, use your feet to roll sideways over the roller. It’s important that you move slowly.

Does Foam Rolling Hurt? 

Yes!!! I mean, sure, it hurts at first, but you soon get used to it as your fascia, muscles and joints become stronger and used to it.

When you first use a foam roller, you may experience some pain similar to the pain experienced when you go for a massage. With foam rolling, however, you’re in full control and can, therefore, control how soft or hard you press yourself against the roller. 

Start lightly, and increase the intensity so as not to cause yourself any injury. If you experience repetitive pain, it’s best to speak with your doctor or a health professional as to why that may be.

What Are the Best Times to Use a Foam Roller? 

These are the best times to use a foam roller:

  • Before and after exercise.
  • If you’re injured.

Before Working Out

Using your foam roller before exercise will increase tissue elasticity, improve blood circulation and increase mobility. 

These three things will make exercising easier and will minimize the risk of injury occurring to any muscles or ligaments as you work out. 

You’ll have more flexibility to move, improving the performance of your workout, which will enhance the results.

After Exercise 

Using a foam roller can speed up recovery after engaging in exercise. It’ll stimulate blood flow in affected areas of the body, which will increase oxygen to reaching sore muscles and really help loosen up those painful knots/trigger points. 

This is a top reason why many athletes get sports massages; however, foam rolling is a great way to receive the same benefits from the comfort of your own home. 

Weightlifting

After Injury 

If you’ve pulled or torn a muscle, foam rolling can offer some relaxation and relief from the pain. 

Encouraging blood flow to the affected areas can help to speed up the recovery process, and using a foam roller can be as relaxing as having a good massage, too.

Foam Rolling vs Sports Massage 

Foam rolling is often referred to as the poor man’s massage, meaning it’s a cheaper alternative than having regular sports massages. 

However, both have similar goals and achieve the same results. Foam rolling is DIY, and so you can’t simply lay there while someone else does all the work. However, with foam rolling, you’re in full control, so you decide how hard or soft you want the massage to be.

They are more cost-effective in the long run, so why pay more if you don’t have to?

You don’t have to leave home with foam rolling either, so it’s much more convenient than having to book an appointment and head off out. With foam rolling, you can jump straight into a hot bath or shower afterward without needing to travel back home from the clinic.

Massage therapy

How to Shop for a Foam Roller 

I was surprised how tough it was to choose a foam roller, but I found that focusing on these factors helped:

  • Type.
  • Firmness.
  • Length.
  • Research.

Type

If you’re new to foam rolling, consider buying a smooth roller first. Textured rollers are much more intense, and can be painful if you’re not quite used to it. This can put you off immediately, meaning you’re less likely to go back to rolling.

Foam Roller

Firmness 

Some rollers are harder and firmer than others, where the harder the roller provides a more intense rolling experience. 

Stick to softer ones if you’ve not used a foam roller before. You can always upgrade to a firmer roller in the future. 

Length

Smaller rollers are ideal for targeting specific, smaller areas of the body. Larger rollers cover a greater surface area and are better for massaging larger muscles. 

Consider where on your body you’ll be using the foam roller to help you to decide on the best size. For example, if you need to get into the butt or the hip, go for a foam massage ball. If you can’t get your hands on one of these, a tennis ball works, too!

Where Can I Buy a Foam Roller?

You could head down to your local sports store to see what rollers they have or speak to people at the gym about where they got theirs from.

Your best option would be to have a look online. You’ll find a greater range of foam rollers to choose from, and you can check out reviews from people who have bought the same one. 

The Takeaway

Foam rollers are a great alternative to sports massages, that provide effective relief from muscle tension, pain and general discomfort. They help to keep the fascia healthy, encouraging the circulation of blood around the body.

There are many different ways to use a foam roller, and they can be used on various muscles and parts of the body. They’re great for preparing the body before a workout, as well as enhancing recovery after you’ve been exercising. 

Do your research first so you can choose the perfect foam roller for you, then enjoy the numerous benefits that come with foam rolling. Happy shopping! 

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