Foam rolling is a popular method of myofascial release with many benefits. One of the great things about it is you can do it yourself, any time. All you need is a foam roller!

Oftentimes, this technique is used pre- or post- workout, but it’s also incredibly beneficial for those who work behind a desk for long hours, or those who spend a lot of time on their feet. Repetitive movement (or lack thereof) can often cause muscle soreness and stiffness. Foam rolling helps alleviate pain caused by over- or under-exertion.

It also:

  • Reduces muscle inflammation
  • Increases range of motion
  • Improves blood flow and circulation
  • Aids in healing
  • Relaxes the body

How Does It Work?

Foam rolling is a self-administered technique for myofascial release that can be done at the gym or from the comfort of your own home. It helps prepare the muscles for activity by strengthening the connection between the muscles and the brain. This is why many people choose to foam roll prior to a workout – it tells the body which muscles require more focus during activity and lengthens those muscles so that they benefit most from the exercise. The physical effects of foam rolling are experienced when the repetitive motion helps increase blood flow to reduce stiffness and inflammation. Stretch tolerance and body temperature can also change during/after foam rolling. Neurologically, it can impact the body’s sensitivity to pain by introducing a balance of pressure and relief. Evidently, foam rolling is an excellent way to help your body feel its best before or after activity.

Which Foam Roller is Right for You:

Foam rollers come in different sizes, surface textures, and densities, so it’s important to find one that is comfortable for you. Typically, foam rollers range between 12 and 36 inches. Larger rollers (approximately 36 inches in length, 5 inches in diameter) are preferred for beginners because they can span the larger areas of the body (back, glutes, quads, etc.) and are easier to control under your bodyweight. Rollers with shorter lengths and smaller diameters are good for targeting smaller muscle groups like arms and lower legs. Foam rollers also come in different shapes, which can be very helpful depending on which muscle group you want to focus on. Spherical rollers are excellent for targeting areas that are hard to access with cylindrical r (i.e. in between your shoulder blades).

Surface texture also plays a part in the effectiveness of foam rolling. Smooth foam rollers are the most basic and commonly used for beginners because the pressure doesn’t feel as strong as it typically would when using a roller with a textured surface. Rollers that have knobs, grooves, or other textures provide a more targeted kneading to break up myofascial adhesions (knots) and may be uncomfortable for first-time users, but more effective for those who foam roll regularly.

Density is another factor that must be considered when choosing a foam roller. For beginners, starting with a softer foam is usually preferred. Choosing a roller that is too dense can cause bruising and pain, while choosing one that is too soft might be ineffective in treating your targeted muscle groups. Foam rollers that are more firm are also more durable and will last longer without changing shape. The best way to test which density is right for you is to try using the foam roller gently, then gradually apply more weight. If the pressure feels like a deep massage and isn’t painful (though it may be mildly uncomfortable), that indicates a good fit.

Where to Buy Quality Foam Rollers:

Foam rollers can be bought either online or in-store, or tried out at your local gym (which is recommended for those who want to test the firmness of a roller before purchasing). Below are a few suggestions for first-time buyers:

Rogue Fitness
Sport Chek
Sporting Life

Foam Rolling Exercises:

Upper Back
Place your foam roller under your upper back, across your shoulder blades. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the ground.
Cross your arms across your chest and lift your lower body so that your body weight rests on the foam roller.
Slowly roll back and forth down to the middle of your back and up to your lower neck.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.

Get into a plank position and place your foam roller under your upper thighs.
Slowly roll down until your roller hits your hips. Then, roll back up until you reach your knees.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.

Sit on the floor and extend your right leg in front of you. Place the foam roller beneath your knee.
With your hands or elbows, lift your body so your body weight is on your right leg on the foam roller. Keep your right leg straight but bend your left leg to help stabilize your body.
Slowly roll back and forth so the foam roller massages your hamstring. Repeat for about 30 seconds.
Move the foam roller under your left hamstring and repeat.

Sit on the floor and extend your right leg in front of you. Place the foam roller under your right calf.
Using your hands or elbows, lift your body and bend your left leg to stabilize. Keep your right leg straight.
Slowly roll back and forth on your right calf, from your ankle to the back of your knee.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.

Glutes (Side)
Lying on your right side, place the foam roller beneath your right-side glutes. Rest your body weight on the foam roller, leaning on your right hand or elbow for support.
Keep your right leg extended. Bend and cross your left leg over your right leg and slowly roll back and forth.
Switch sides and repeat for about 30 seconds.

Important to Note:

Foam rolling is a great way to alleviate stiffness and pain, but can be uncomfortable if you’re working on knotted muscles. The best way to break down knots is to gradually apply pressure with a roller, smoothing over the affected area until the tension releases. Foam rolling can be done on a daily basis, a few times a week, or as needed.