Did you know there is something you could be doing in the privacy of your own home while watching TV that not only feels like a self massage, but also increases your range of motion, loosens up your tight muscles, aids in recovery and gets your blood flowing?
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re not foam rolling yet, you need to start. And today, not only am I going to talk about how and why to foam roll, but I’m also going to give one lucky reader the chance to win the greatest foam roller ever, the RumbleRoller (edited to add, this giveaway is closed!). Read on …
Now there are countless tutorials on how to foam roll out there on the Interwebs, and every trainer and fitness guru has their own take. Today, I’m sharing mine and what works for me, so we’ll call this the “A Lady Goes West Foam Rolling 101.” Let’s get to it!
What is foam rolling?
The official name for foam rolling is “Self-Myofascial Release.” In the personal training world, we call it “SMR” for short. Your muscles are surrounded by a tissue called fascia, and foam rolling is the practice of using a device to loosen up the knots and kinks in that fascia. Rather than having someone massage your body, you do it yourself.
When should you foam roll?
All the time. Any time. But more specifically ….
- Before a workout, I like to spend about three minutes rolling over all of my major muscle groups, just to get the blood flowing.
- And after a workout, I like to spend about five minutes, slowly taking my time to work out any knots or kinks, repair my muscles and overall loosen up.
I think there are benefits to foam rolling before and after, however, if I had to choose one, I’d say after for recovery. But many people out there will say before is completely necessary to improve your movement. Once again, you may find what works best for you is not always what works best for everyone else.
You can also foam roll on a rest day when you aren’t working out. I’ve heard of physical therapists recommending foam rolling to people who have been in car accidents and need to loosen up, so it’s not just for exercisers. Even if you’re not regularly active (which I hope you are), there are always benefits to using a foam roller.
What parts of the body should you foam roll?
I think it’s best to hit the major spots including the upper back, the quads, the glutes/piriformis, the calves, the IT bands (along the side of your thighs), the adductors (the inside of your thighs) and the hamstrings. You can also roll your lats (the big muscles down the upper-sides of your back) or wherever you feel tight.
What parts of the body should you not foam roll?
Never roll over your joints and avoid rolling on your neck or directly on your lower back. But really, you may find all sorts of places that feel good to roll.
How often should you foam roll?
You could definitely foam roll every day and would be better for it. However, I tend to foam roll before and after major workouts about four days a week. There are always a couple of days when I neglect, but I should do it every single day. You should certainly foam roll after a tough weight-training session, a workout with repetitive motions or a long run. (And I don’t do long runs, but you get the point.)
How fast should you move the foam roller on your body?
When I foam roll before a workout, I like to move fairly quick over the muscles to get my blood flowing. When I foam roll after a workout, I spend much more time, nearly 20-30 seconds per body part slowly moving over knots, kinks and tough spots that may have come about after exercise. However, you can move at your own pace, finding what feels best for you.
Where can you get a foam roller?
You can buy foam rollers nearly anywhere, like a sports store, Amazon or even Target. If you’re new to foam rolling, you’ll want to find one that is more pliable. However, if you think you’re ready for it, you can jump right into the RumbleRoller, which is what I have at home and have used below.
Foam rolling 101
Disclaimer: Even though I’m a certified personal trainer, I’m not your personal trainer. You should probably ask your doctor or trainer to help you when you first get started foam rolling. But with these tips, you can improve your technique.
Here are a few tutorials on my favorite parts of the body to foam roll.
This one is absolutely essential for runners, spinners or squatters. So basically everyone.
How to foam roll your IT bands: Turn your body to the side, put the foam roller just underneath your hips on the outside of your thigh, then roll all the way down the length of your thigh stopping before you get to your knee. Don’t roll on the knee. You may want to start with crossing your top leg over and placing that foot on the ground to take away some of the pressure. Keep your body long and straight, and use your hands to walk your body up the roller. The third picture shows a more advanced option, with both of your legs straight. This places more pressure on the muscles, so can be painful at first. Repeat on the other side.
This one is great for those of us who hunch over at our desks and have tight upper bodies.
How to foam roll your upper back: Sit in front of a foam roller with your butt up against it. Then, put your weight into your feet, slightly lift up your whole lower body and begin to let the foam roller move along your spine from just above your lower back to just below your neck. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows up, which will move your shoulder blades out of the way so you can get deeper into the muscles. You can rock back and forth a bit in the upper-back region.
How to foam roll your lats: You can easily roll out your lat muscles from this position, by turning slightly to your side and reaching your arms out and above you. Repeat on the other side.
This one is good for anyone who walks a lot or wears high heels.
How to foam roll your calves: Sit on your butt with your legs extended, arms behind you. This one requires a bit of upper-body strength, so if you struggle, that’s okay. Put the roller under your legs just below the meaty part of your calves. Use your arms to walk your body back and let the roller move up the back of your leg to just before the underside of your kneecap on the back of the leg. For a more advanced option, you can cross one leg over the other, as shown in picture three above. This will put more pressure on the muscles and can be painful at first. Once in this position, you can roll your legs side-to-side as well, to work out anything on the sides of the calves. Make sure you don’t flex your calves, to get the most out of this one when they are loose and pliable.
How to foam roll your hamstrings: You can turn the calve rolling easily into hamstring rolling, by placing the roller just above where your knee creases and rolling along the back of the legs until you reach the butt. There is also an advanced option to place one leg on top of the other.
Quads and adductors
This one is good for anyone who takes stairs, walks uphill or frequently uses their legs.
How to foam roll your quads: Lay on your stomach with legs extended. Put the roller under your legs just above your kneecaps. Use your upper body to pull yourself along forward and let the roller come up to just below your where your legs meet your hip sockets. Roll back and forth in this area. Make sure you aren’t flexing your muscles, to get the most out of this one.
How to foam roll your adductors: As shown in picture three above, from the quad foam rolling position, just turn one leg out to the side at a 90-degree angle from your body and turn the roller parallel to your body. Place the roller on the inner thigh. This one does not need a big range of rolling motion, as you should feel it instantly. Roll from just above the kneecap to just below where your leg meets your hip socket on the inside.
This one is good for anyone with a butt, and especially good for people who sit all day.
How to foam roll your piriformis: Sit on top of the roller, lift one leg over the other in a cross-legged position. Lean on to the butt cheek of the leg that is in the air on top. Roll along the butt, back and forth and side to side. Repeat on the other side, switching which leg is on top.
Yes, this is as fun as it looks, but can be hard when you first get going. But anybody can do it, whether you’re big into fitness or not. So grab a roller, turn on the TV and give your body a little tender-loving care.
Details on the RumbleRoller
I’m using a pretty awesome roller in these photos above, and I first saw one of these RumbleRollers while working at Equinox. I had been a pretty avid foam roller for a while, so decided to jump on it, and boy does it work. It’s a much more intense feel than the other foam rollers out there, providing more of a deep-tissue massage. Of course, the difference is that the RumbleRoller is not a smooth surface, like many other foam rollers. I love the way it digs into my upper back and my calves especially. It’s firm, and those rivets are so effective at loosening up any tightness, sort of like the thumbs of a masseuse. The first time I used the black Full-Size X-Firm RumbleRoller, I laid on it for a long time while listening to a lecture in the gym and ended up with some slight bruising. But I tell you what, I felt awesome in spite of the marks. I will say that the blue Full-Size Original RumbleRoller is definitely my choice for everyday use, and no, it hasn’t never bruised me. You can look online to find out where there is a RumbleRoller retailer near you.
A few points about the RumbleRoller:
- It’s latex-free and extremely durable
- It’s waterproof, but can be cleaned with soap or common household cleaner
- It has some antimicrobial fibers so that bacteria doesn’t grow on it
- If you have a tiny city apartment like me, it can double as decor in your living room
ENTER TO WIN a Full-Size Original RumbleRoller foam roller (closed!)
Now, here’s your chance to enter to win one of these handy tools for yourself. Sorry, but this contest is open to my U.S. readers only, and will close on Saturday, January 17 at night. Enter today, and if you have a friend in need, please share this with them too. I’d really appreciate it.
*Please note: The friendly folks at RumbleRoller sent me a complimentary roller to use in this post. I wanted the best-of-the-best to share with you, and knowing this was my favorite foam roller, I’m so glad they agreed to jump on board. Of course, all opinions are my own and affiliate links are included. Oh, and special thanks going out to my patient husband and photographer Dave, who was woken up from a Sunday afternoon nap to help me get this done. He’s a good man.
By the way, this foam rolling tutorial was a reader request. If there’s other stuff you’d like to see, please let me know. And for more information on how to do movement prep and recovery, check out How to massage yourself at home with a ball and Two mobility moves that will change your world. Okay guys, have a fabulous day! See you tomorrow for a post all about food.
Questions of the day
Do you ever foam roll?
Where do you have muscle tightness?