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Best Foam Roller Exercises – How to Use a Foam Roller

July 9, 2023

Are you someone who works out? If so, you must be familiar with DMOS, aka delayed-onset muscle soreness.

For those who don’t know, it refers to muscle pain that develops one to two days after an intense workout. For example, your muscles might be swollen or tender to the touch. This is due to tiny tears in the muscle fibers, which cause inflammation and soreness.

Easing Your Sore, Stiff Muscles

Don’t force yourself to exercise if your muscles are in pain; give them a chance to repair themselves. At the very least, you want to skip the high-intensity workouts.

Forcing yourself to continue while you’re in pain will only delay your recovery. What you want to do instead is focus on treating the sore muscles – and one way to do that is with a foam roller.

What is a Foam Roller?

benefits of foam rollingA foam roller is a cylindrical tube of compressed foam that’s designed for self-massage. If used properly, it can help reduce muscle tension and soreness, including those caused by DMOS.

According to one study, those who foam-rolled immediately after exercise had less muscle soreness compared to those who didn’t use a foam roller, which allowed them to perform better in subsequent workouts.

Other Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

Foam rolling isn’t just for DMOS. For example, it can also increase your range of motion, especially if combined with stretching.

Not only that but it can also help reduce the appearance of cellulite, relieve back pain, and manage fibromyalgia symptoms.

Are There Risks Involved With Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is safe as long as it’s done properly.

Avoid using it on small joints such as the ankles, elbows, and knees as it can cause hyperextension. Foam rolling should also be avoided if you have a serious injury. When in doubt, check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting.

While foam rolling can help relieve tension during pregnancy, it’s best to get cleared by your doctor first. Do not use a foam roller during your third trimester; there’s a small chance it can cause premature labor.

Choosing a Foam Roller

different types of foam rollersFoam rollers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. At the end of the day, you want to pick one that’s right for you.

Here are some of the most common types that are available:

Smooth Rollers

These rollers have a smooth surface, which makes them less intense compared to other options. Not only are they great for beginners but they also tend to be cheaper as well.

Textured Rollers

These rollers are the best option for those who want something that will help get rid of trigger points and muscle tension. They come with ridges and knobs on the surface that work into the muscles.

Foam Massage Balls

These balls allow for precise pressure control. They are best used for targeting specific muscle areas (particularly curved areas of the body). For instance, you can use them to roll away the knots on your shoulders.

Foam-covered Massage Sticks

These devices are similar to rolling pins in that they are long and thin. They are covered with foam and are typically used on the arms and legs to reduce muscle soreness.

Depending on the design, you might also be able to use them on your upper back.

How to Use Foam Roller Roll – General Tips

If you’re a beginner, you can always ask a certified personal trainer for help at the gym. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Start by applying light pressure – you may notice some pain, especially if your muscles are tight
  • You can adjust the pressure by increasing or reducing the amount of body weight that you put on the roller
  • Roll tender areas for 10 seconds and gradually work your way up to 30 to 60 seconds

7 of the Best Foam Roller Exercises

Here are a few exercises that target different areas of the body:

1. Quad Exercise

Rolling out your quads will get your blood flowing, which will help keep your muscles engaged. For the best results, focus on your quads one at a time – that will allow you to massage each side more thoroughly.

1. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows aligned. Your shoulders and arms should be shoulder-width apart, parallel to your body. Put the foam roller under your quads.

2. Brace your upper body. Slowly apply pressure onto the roller; you want to roll it until it moves above your right and left knee. From there, roll it in the opposite direction until it reaches your hip flexors.

3. Continue to roll back and forth for 30 seconds. If it’s your first time, you might want to start by doing it for 10 seconds.

4. Hold the roller in position if you hit a tender spot. Gradually move the roller up and down to relieve muscle tension.

2. Calf Exercise

best foam roller exercisesThe calf muscles can be tight for several reasons and that can increase your risk of tears and injuries. Here’s an exercise that you do to help loosen the muscle:

1. Sit on the floor with your leg straight and extended—your arms should be behind you. Place the foam roller horizontally so that it’s under your calf muscles.

2. Slowly place your body weight on the foam roller, lifting your body forward in the process. For extra pressure, cross your left leg over the right leg (or vice versa).

3. Move back and forth on the foam roller by extending your arms. Continue for 30 seconds, paying extra attention to sore areas.

4. Switch to the other leg when you’re finished. You want to roll both calves for the same amount of time.

3. Hamstring Exercise

Certain sports such as tennis or soccer, or even sitting at a desk for long periods, can cause tightness in the hamstrings. It’s important to loosen them regularly as tight hamstrings are more prone to tearing.

1. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended. Place your arms behind you for support. The foam roller should be positioned underneath your hamstrings.

2. Lift your body with your arms; your body weight should be resting on the roller. Slowly roll up and down; it should be moving between your knees and your glutes.

3. Roll each side for at least 30 seconds. Pay extra attention to tender spots. Once again, you can cross your legs for extra pressure, if necessary.

4. Upper Back Exercise

foam rolling upper backUpper back pain can be caused by poor posture, sports, or injuries. Here’s how to loosen up those tight muscles.

1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your arms can be crossed in front of your chest or down by your sides. Position the foam roller so that it’s under your upper back.

2. Slowly lift yourself up so that you’re in a bridge position. Place pressure on the roller and roll up and down a few inches; the roller should be moving between your lower neck and mid-back.

3. Continue to roll for 30 seconds. Linger on tender spots.

5. Shoulder Exercise

Your shoulders can become tight due to muscle tension, overuse, or poor posture. Here’s how to loosen them:

1. Lay on your side with your knees on the ground; you’ll be using your arm to guide the movement. The foam roller should be underneath your shoulder.

2. Slowly move the roller up and down over your deltoid. If needed, rotate your body slightly so that you can also roll your upper back.

3. Repeat the movements for 30 seconds. Pay extra attention to sore areas.

4. Switch to your other shoulder and continue rolling.

6. Hip Flexors Exercise

foam rolling hip flexorYour hip flexors can become tight if you sit for extended periods. While stretching helps, it’s best to massage them with a foam roller as that will allow you to loosen the muscle tissue.

1. Lay down on the floor in a forearm plank position. Place the foam roller underneath your hip flexor; the other leg should be bent slightly to the side.

2. Slowly roll up and down, targeting the hip flexor. Your forearms should be rested in front of you. Pay extra attention to sore spots.

3. Continue to roll the hip flexor for 30 minutes. Once time is up, switch to the other side and repeat the same movements with the other hip flexor.

7. Foot Rolling Exercise

Kneel on the mat and place your left foot on the foam roller (it should be in front of you horizontally on the floor).

Slowly move the roller back and forth, allowing your foot to curve over the roller. Continue to roll for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch to the other foot.

Using Foam Rollers – FAQs

How often can you use a foam roller?

For beginners, we recommend doing foam roller exercises 2-3 times a week. As you get used to rolling, you can increase the frequency to 4-5 times a week, for 10 minutes each time.

To prevent injury, limit rolling a particular muscle group to less than 30 seconds.

Is it better to use a foam roller in the morning or at night?

Using a foam roller before bed may help improve sleep by soothing sore muscles. Rolling in the morning also has its benefits; it will help loosen your muscles so that they will function better throughout the day.

What areas should you not use the foam roller on?

Foam rollers should not be used directly on a bone or joint. Also, avoid using it in the neck area as it can be sensitive, especially if you are experiencing neck pain.

Can you use the foam roller on the outer thigh area?

Yes, you can stretch your outer thighs using a foam roller.

Simply place the foam roller on the floor, underneath your hips. Support your upper body with your arms and gently roll your body, starting from the lower part of the hip. Repeat on the other side afterward.

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Clara Jennings

Clara Jennings is a retired Pilates instructor with a profound understanding of health and fitness. She channels her extensive experience into writing instructional guides, offering readers valuable insights into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Clara’s comprehensive approach combines fitness wisdom with practical advice, empowering individuals to achieve their wellness goals through informed, balanced practices.

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