Foam Rolling: How To Use A Foam Roller Like A Pro

Foam rollers have long been popular within the realm of physical therapy, and with good reason — these lightweight tools can help release tenderness in muscles and connective tissue, aid stretching and prevent or gently treating injuries. Nowadays, foam rollers are making their way into our fitness regimes, as gym-goers capitalize on their ability to strengthen the core and other large muscle groups while also releasing those tight, tense “trigger points.”

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Incorporating rollers into your routine isn’t only effective, but can be a lot of fun. Here’s some key information you’ll need to make the most out of your foam roller workouts.

Traditional Use Of Rollers

Physical therapists have used foam rollers to help release areas of muscle fibres and myofascia that cause trigger points, often due to injuries or overuse.

Most commonly, people use their own body weight to “massage” tissue by positioning themselves over the roller (for instance, assuming a plank position and rolling over quads).

This, essentially, helps elongate and stretch out muscles: As you roll over tense “trigger points,” the muscles get squeezed and released, stimulating golgi tendon organs, which aid in muscle relaxation. Rolling out muscles also acts like a deep tissue massage, which can help breakdown scar tissue and increase fresh blood supply.

How To Roll Into Your Routine

After a short warm up (five to 10 minutes of jogging, jump squats, jumping jacks, burpees— you choose!) begin your workout by rolling out large muscle groups, especially tight ones. This may significantly increase the overall benefits of regular stretches.

Without using a roller prior to stretching, you’re primarily stretching the “healthy” portion of the muscle, which doesn’t contain problematic trigger points, even though it’s the portions of the tissue restricted by trigger points that actually need to be stretched the most.

Using foam rollers helps knead the knots, so to speak, first. Then you can more effectively lengthen, or stretch, the entire muscle. Rolling out both sides of your legs, as well as the front and back of your body, brings more optimal balance into your tissues, through the release of trigger points.

Also Read: 6 Foam Roller Stretches For Your Entire Body

In addition, specific exercises that engage the core, arms and legs as you roll help build muscle (see below for some ideas).

Finally, end your fitness routine with large rolling motions, or even smaller, micro massages, to help you walk away feeling refreshed and relaxed. Many people prefer to foam roll their sore muscles once their workout is over, while others would rather prep their muscles for a tough workout to come. Whichever way you choose to foam roll, just make sure your muscles are nice and warm before rolling.

Types Of Roller Exercises

One of my favourite ways to demonstrate how quick and effective foam rollers can be is by working the quads, then the IT bands (connective tissue on the sides of the legs), and then returning to the quads.

Begin in a plank position, holding yourself up with either the palms of your hands or your elbows. Position the roller just below your pelvis, on top of your quads. Then, begin rolling the top portion of your quads. After you’ve made several passes in the top few inches of your quads, move to the “belly,” or middle of the muscle and roll over that portion several times. Then progress to the “end” of the quads, just above the knee, making sure not to roll over the knee. Notice any uncomfortable sensations in your quads, and note how tight they feel as you roll the entire length of the quad muscles out a few times.

Then, roll over to one side of your leg and place the roller below the hipbone, toward the top of the IT band. Progressively roll it out, just as you had during the above exercise. You may spend additional time on any trigger points you discover. End by rolling the entire side of your leg out, and then switch sides and repeat.

Note: Make sure you are breathing fully as you do these exercises. If you are holding your breath, particularly due to pain or discomfort, choose a softer roller and/or ease some of your weight off the roller by holding yourself up more with your opposite leg (crossed over your outstretched leg and rooted with the foot on your mat). You should never feel sharp pain; if you do, discontinue the exercise and consult a professional. However, if it feels good to go deeper, you may try a firmer roller and/or rest your upper leg over the one getting rolled out, so you use more of your body weight to get into the tissue.

Once you’ve rolled out the IT bands, return to the quads. As you roll over the length of the muscle this time around, notice the sensation. Usually, it feels much better the second time around, because you’ve created more balance and relaxation throughout the entire leg.

Progressively roll out the hamstrings in a similar fashion, by holding yourself up with your arms and crossing one leg over the hamstring you’re rolling out, in order to increase the massaging pressure. Change legs.

Then, without rolling over your knees, move down to the calf muscles, crossing the free leg over to take advantage of your own body weight.

Every time you do even a short rolling session (10 minutes), you’re releasing myofascia, which increases muscle flexibility. You’re also working on strengthening muscles, such as arms, core or legs, that support your body weight and help you complete the rolling exercises.

To work the core, place the roller under your lower back and use your abs to lift your upper body as you roll out your lower back (arms cross over chest). Then, roll out the remainder of the spine.

Change the position of the roller so that it’s aligned vertically along your spine. With your head on one end and pelvis on the other, raise one arm up (so elbow comes to ear) and, simultaneously, move the other, straightened arm, down alongside your body. Alternate arms slowly.

Then, you can roll out your shoulders, shoulder blade areas and back while the roller is positioned vertically.

Rollers are also great for building core strength during balance activities, and as your comfort, skill, strength and balance increases, your exercises will also progress.

For example, a beginner move would include performing bridges with your feet on the roller. (Lie on your back, knees bent, then push through your feet to lift your hips up, while keeping your shoulders and head on the floor).

Using half rollers, which are literally cut in half vertically so they don’t roll around when the flat side faces the floor, or so they don’t roll as much as a full roller when the rounded side is on the floor, are the easiest ways to begin this progression. Once you’re ready, try a full roller, and then advance to doing single leg bridges, with one foot on the roller and the other leg extended straight.

If you really want to challenge your balance and build more core muscle, perform free weight exercises, like bicep and tricep curls while standing on a roller (usually a half roller). Of course, always put safety first.

Ending your fitness routine with rolling, and passive stretches using the roller, is a great way to feel energized. For example, stretch out tight pecs by aligning the roller with your spine and lying down. Then, bend your elbows 90 degrees, raise them to shoulder height and allow your hands to drop toward the floor (you can also do this holding light weights for more of a stretch).

Then, get on your hands and knees, place one hand on the roller, and slowly roll up and down each arm.

Types Of Foam Rollers

Rollers come in a variety of lengths and widths, in addition to firmness, shape, raised or smooth textures and, of course, fun colours.

Many models employ a raised, wavy texture to work deeper tissue layers. There are also hot and cold rollers, which can be heated or cooled to help with pain.

Adding rollers to a workout is an affordable and effective way to change up your routine. Give it a try — it may just become your favourite new fitness tool.