Foam rolling 101: How and why you should be using a foam roller

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!

How and why you should be using a foam roller via A Lady Goes West

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.


 IT bands

This one is absolutely essential for runners, spinners or squatters. So basically everyone.

Foam rolling 101 - IT bands via A Lady Goes West

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.

Upper back

This one is great for those of us who hunch over at our desks and have tight upper bodies. 

Foam rolling 101 - Back via A Lady Goes West

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.

Calves

This one is good for anyone who walks a lot or wears high heels. 

Foam rolling 101 - Calves via A Lady Goes West

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. 

Foam rolling 101 - Quads and adductors via A Lady Goes West

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.

Piriformis/butt

This one is good for anyone with a butt, and especially good for people who sit all day.

Foam rolling 101 - Piriformis via A Lady Goes West

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

Ashley with the RumbleRollerHey, that’s me smiling because I love my RumbleRoller.

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.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*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?

, ,

167 Comments

  1. Ok, so I have a question. I’ve heard many mixed reviews on this, so I’m curious to hear your opinion. The IT band. It is a tendon and tendons don’t have a lot of give. I was told to roll the fascia around it, but not the IT band itself (from a physical therapist). Would love your opinion!

    1. Hi Sue! Happy Tuesday! πŸ™‚ Like I said in the intro, every trainer/PT has their own take. I find that I do like to roll down and around my outer thigh, which does go over the IT band. However, the tutorials I used have the “main muscle or tendon” name, but really I’m suggesting that you roll on the fascia around each, because that’s what you are getting the kinks out of. So yes, I don’t try to “hit the IT”, because it is so deep, but I roll around that area quite a bit and feel much better when I do. Does that help? You just have to decide if yours is too sensitive or not. I like to also do some IT stretches before foam rolling, because I tend to get tight there. Many people also can get some knee pain from super-tight ITs, so I think it’s a good idea to do. Hope I haven’t conflicted you, but once again, you do what feels best on your own body. πŸ™‚

  2. I just cannot get the hang of foam rolling correctly. I feel like the only one I really have down is the calves. But as a distance runner, I need it for more than just that. But it feels so awkward and incorrect when I am doing it the other ways. I feel so unsteady on my hands and it just never feels like I’m doing it right. I’m going to try to study your tutorials to hopefully get a better grasp of it.

    1. Hi Courtney! It will always feel awkward, that’s for sure. Hope these tips help a bit, and let me know if you have any specific questions. πŸ™‚ Happy Tuesday!!

  3. Love, love, love this post!! As both a BodyPump instructor and runner, I know that I need to foam roll more often, but it always seems to be last on my to-do list. My calves seem to always be the spot that require the most attention, but I’ve never tried rolling on the adductors so I will have to try that out! That rumble roller looks really intense!

    1. Hi Brittney! Yay or a fellow BODYPUMP instructor. Yes, I always foam roll after teaching BP! Thanks for entering the giveaway. Have a great day! πŸ™‚

  4. I would definitely use this on my upper back..it has been a problem area for me for years. Also, I would use it on my legs pre and post workout! Thanks for this giveaway : )

  5. I would love this! I foam roll and do mobility exercises every day. It is a huge help because I am hunched over my computer so much. Thanks to you and Dave πŸ™‚ for all the great pictures – it takes time, but they are very helpful to see. Have a great Tuesday!

  6. I looooove the foam roller! I don’t know how I survived without it! I use a regular foam roller for my legs, and I like to use tennis balls for my glutes and calves πŸ™‚ I’ve seen the Rumble Roller before, and it looks like a wonderfully tortuous treat!

  7. You know how much I love foam rolling, and thank you for introducing it to me.

    That said, the rumble roller looks terrifying

    Brother

    1. Hi!!!!!! Yay for you commenting! Did you enter the giveaway? Yes, the RumbleRoller will truly get the job done. I’m so glad you see that life is better when you foam roll. Happy Tuesday, bro!

    1. Hi Ash! Yes you do, I do it when I get home and watch TV or catch up with Dave from his day in the living room. That way, it always has to happen! πŸ™‚

  8. Ahh I recently just started foam rolling and it is the best discovery ever! And investment. I am loving how it loosens up my quad muscles and helping those little strains go away in no time!

  9. I love a good foam roll! I notice my best runs happen if I roll before. I’m reaching the level that I need to upgrade from my smooth roller. This one looks painfully perfect πŸ™‚

  10. I wish I foam rolled more – which I know is totally on me. It seems I always go to it when I feel an injury coming on rather than doing it all the time so I could help prevent the injury. I use it most on my IT band and glutes. I have a trigger point one too and I love it!

  11. I need to get more consistent with my foam rolling! I roll my calves a few times a week to prevent tightness during long runs but I tend to neglect all of the other body parts.

    1. Hi Jess! Well you’re ahead of the game by rolling at all, so props to you for that. Thanks for entering! Good luck! πŸ™‚ Oh and happy Tuesday!

  12. I have horrible IT bands and I foam roll but I think this would take me to the next level. Also I’m going to send this to my dad who runs and sits all day he needs to do this and I think the pictures would help!

    1. Hi Alexa! Thanks for sharing with your Pops. And yes, we all need a little rolling. Hope this helps with your IT bands. Have a great Tuesday. It’s a beautiful day in the Bay!

  13. I really need to get better about foam rolling. I only have a baby one however, and I think an upgrade may be what I need in order to motivate myself more!

    I have Pilates on tap for my workout today! Looking forward to feeling the burn πŸ˜‰

  14. this was a helpful tutorial! i did a bodypump class this morning (visited a different gym and did a new (or at least, new-to-me) release that was pretty challenging… we stretched, but i’ve been feeling all day that i need a massage!

    1. I just realized the post said not to foam roll the lower back. Obviously I don’t know much about foam rolling lol

  15. I was just looking at these rollers last night because my knee hurts and I’m worried it’s my IT band. Great tutorial!

  16. My foam roller and I = <3 πŸ™‚ . Other than the hamstrings and quads I really enjoy rolling out my shins, I'm always shocked at how tight they are!

  17. That looks AMAZING. I have a little dinky foam roller at home but the Rumble roller looks like the cadillac of all foam rollers compared to mine. After teaching two pump and two Attack classes yesterday, I could really really use a roller like that today! I love foam rolling and try to do it whenever I get the chance. Today I am tight all over, but usually it’s my IT bands. Awesome review!

    1. Oh my gosh, Jenna, you taught four yesterday? Wow! I never teach more than two in a day, and even that is rough. You need to foam roll and relax. Put your feet up!! hahaha Thanks for entering. πŸ™‚

  18. Ashley I LOVE that you posted about foam rolling. You’re right in that there are so many tutorials on it and everyone seems to have their own style which can get very confusing so I love that you made it about what works for you (and it’s pretty spot on!) As a personal trainer I can relate to the concept that fitness is an individual thing which I try to explain to my clients and that sometimes it takes time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s so important to listen to your body. Thanks for posting!

  19. Your photos are great!

    Foam rollers are so wonderful for injuries. I had a really tight IT band a few years ago that was causing me knee pain. I started foam rolling and it went away. The only thing is that it hurts SO MUCH!

    1. Hi Britt! Well thanks, glad you are on board with the foam rolling train. It’s super helpful, but yes, can be hard at first. Have a great night!! πŸ™‚

  20. I need a foam roller so bad! I use a rumble roller and a trigger point roller at my gym (they have ones available to use), but don’t have one at home. In desperate times, I’ve had my honey take a rolling pin to my hammies. D: It didn’t work very well, lol. Besides my always-tight hams, I really like to foam roll my shoulders/upper back with the rumble roller in particular. I get a lot of knots up there because my posture needs work, so it’s always a magical experience, lol.

    Thanks for this post and this giveaway opportunity. πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Suzanne! You’ve got a good man for rolling your hamstrings with a rolling pin! So it sounds like you need this RumbleRoller at home. Thanks for entering. I hope all is well with you! πŸ™‚

  21. What a fantastic product – I’d use it all over my body. I have several injured discs which pinch the nerves and send false pain messages to my muscles (causing them to tighten). At times this affects my workout and I can see using this both before and after.

  22. Oh I would use this at home in the morning to get my muscles going. I’ve been lifting REALLY heavy lately and am tight all the time. This would be perfect. I use my foam roller all the time but really love the RumbleRoller, I’ve used it a few times at the gym but it’s pretty popular so I can’t always find one available. Love your pics by the way πŸ™‚

  23. I have tight hips so I usually use it for that.

    P.S. I’m giving away a signed copy of The Skinny Confidential: A Babe’s Sexy, Sassy Health and Lifestyle Guide on the blog.

    Hope you join in the fun! Have a great day!

  24. I have a plain foam roller that I use to work out my IT band and pirformis muscle on my right side but it would be nice to have the rumble one to go deeper.

    1. Hi Cassi! Yes indeed, the little thumbs on the RumbleRoller sure help get deep. Thanks for stopping by, hope you have a great Wednesday! πŸ™‚

  25. Awesome tutorial! I actually did need a better guide on how to roll my butt (lol) and upper back. I always feel silly spending time to foam roll after a long run but it makes a huge difference. The Rumberoller looks scary as heck but I bet it feels amazing! #wowlinkup

  26. I would use Rumberroller after all my runs and gym visits. I think the most difficult thing is my upper back, and how tight it gets after running or cycling. This is the worst!! So maybe this would be a great relief to my pain! You look so happy rolling, I thought it would be more painful!

    1. Hi Dixie! I’ve been using a RumbleRoller long enough that it’s mostly pleasurable for me, but there are spots of pain heheh! Thanks for stopping by and entering:)

  27. I remember you posting about this (very intimidating) foam roller before! I would love to win it and I would use it to foam roll everything! Although I particularly like foam rolling out my upper back and quadriceps.

    1. Hi Markita! Thanks for stopping by and entering! πŸ™‚ Yes, the lower back doesn’t have all the caging around it like the rest of your back, so you have to be careful. I would love if you shared this post. Have an awesome day! πŸ™‚

  28. I’m pretty much a foam rolling whore and have started to wear out my existing roller if you can believe it. Those rumble rollers hurt sooooo good. Great post Ash, love the picture tutorials!

  29. My IT bands need the most help, haha. Every time I foam roll em’, they always hurt so good! Thanks for holding this giveaway + for putting together such an awesome and comprehensive post! <3

    1. Ohhh Farrah, you’re so welcome. Glad you like it. Yes, the IT bands are soo important to roll around. Have a great night, and thanks for entering! πŸ™‚

  30. I LOVED this post!! My trainer is huge on release work so I’ve been rolling regularly for a year now, and if I stop for a few days due to busyness or travel, I can totally feel the difference. Thanks for the giveaway!! Also, check out the QuadBaller if you haven’t already!

    1. Hi Lauryn, Well your trainer is definitely leading you in the right direction with foam rolling. I haven’t heard of the QuadBaller, thanks for that tip! πŸ™‚

  31. I have a cheaper quality, beaten up foam roller that looks sad in comparison to your RumbleRoller. Clearly, it’s time for an upgrade regardless of if I win! I’m a runner and most need this for my calves and IT Band.

  32. The day this post came out I was asking one of our instructors about foam rolling. I was looking for a tutorial like this one. YAY! I never thought I’d need it for the low-impact workouts I do but I’ve been waking up sore and more tired so I definitely need to try it.

  33. My hamstrings and IT bands are always super tight, so I’d definitely work on them. Thanks for hosting this awesome giveaway!

  34. I need a foam roller, especially with my love for running:) Hello, tightness everywhere! I would use it specifically on my hamstring muscles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.