How to Use that Foam Roller

If you don’t already own a foam roller, you’ve likely seen one at a gym or sporting goods shop. Though the foam or foam-covered cylinders have been around for decades, in recent years, foam rolling has become a fitness phenomenon, with some local studios offering classes and clinics centered around the tool. Why all the hype? Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release (or a kind of self-given deep-tissue massage) that can help reduce soreness, increase flexibility and range of motion and loosen tight, achy muscles, explains Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated exercise specialist Amy Levine.

PERFECT FORM:

  • The goal is to relieve tension in your muscles. Situate the roller perpendicular to the length of a muscle and roll slowly and deliberately back and forth for about 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Roll muscles throughout the entire body, including the upper back, hamstrings, quads, glutes, pectorals, arms and groin.
  • Use your limbs to control the amount of pressure you place on the muscle. If you feel extra tension or discomfort in a particular spot (known as a trigger point) give it a few extra rolls or a static hold, spending about 30 seconds on the area.
  • “Foam rolling should not hurt,” notes Levine. “You may feel slight discomfort when rolling over tight tension spots, but if you experience pain, release some of the pressure and stop if pain continues.”

 

MAKE IT COUNT:

  • Find the right roller. Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and densities and with an array of textures. Long, smooth-surfaced, cylindrical rollers (like the black one below) are ideal for beginners. Hollow rollers with ridges or knobs on the surface apply more intense, targeted pressure. And small foam balls are great for zeroing in on specific trigger points or hard-to-reach muscles (such as the pectoral muscles, between your chest and arm).
  • Know where not to roll. Avoid rolling over joints, small bones, your neck and your lower back; doing so incorrectly could lead to major discomfort and even injury.
  • Play around with timing. If you’re incorporating foam rolling into your fitness routine, try rolling both before and after you exercise. “Foam rolling can warm up muscles and increase blood flow before a workout and afterward can help muscles recover,” says Levine. “Start to add rolling to your exercise routine a few times a week and then increase to everyday if that feels comfortable to you,” she recommends.