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Best Foam Roller Exercises – How to Use a Foam Roller

April 1, 2022

Are you someone who likes to work out? If so, you must be familiar with DMOS—or delayed-onset muscle soreness. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to muscle pain that develops after you’ve exercised. Generally speaking, it begins a day or two after a workout. For instance, your muscles might be swollen or tender to the touch. What causes this to happen? Microscopic tears. That’s right, high-intensity exercise can cause tiny tears in the fibers. As a result, the area becomes inflamed, which leads to pain and soreness.

Contrary to popular belief, DMOS is not always a sign of a “good” workout. After all, you’ll be more likely to get sore if you’re starting a new routine. As you continue with each workout however, you’ll get less and less sore—that doesn’t mean that you’re not exercising hard enough, though. Your body will just have adapted to the routine.

Easing Your Sore, Stiff Muscles

Don’t force yourself to exercise if your muscles are in pain. Listen to your body—give your muscles a chance to repair itself. At the very least, you’ll want to skip out on high-intensity workouts. Forcing yourself to continue while you’re in pain will only delay your recovery. Ultimately, what you want to do instead, is to focus on treating the sore muscles. For instance, you might want to apply heat or ice. Massaging the area might also help; one of the best ways to do this is by using a foam roller.

What is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a cylindrical tube of compressed foam that’s used for self-massage. If anything, it’s a great piece of equipment for those who want to reduce muscle tension and soreness. As mentioned earlier, it can even help with DOMS! In one study, those who foam rolled immediately after exercise had less muscle soreness compared to those who didn’t foam roll. As a result, they also performed better in the subsequent workout.

benefits of foam rolling

Other Benefits of Using a Foam Roller 

Foam rolling isn’t just for DMOS—it comes with several other benefits. For instance, it can increase your range of motion (combine it with stretching for the best results). Not only that, but it can help reduce the appearance of cellulite, relieve back pain, and manage fibromyalgia symptoms. On top of all that, it’s a great way to relax. Given all that, why wouldn’t you want to add it to your weekly routine?

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. In addition to that, foam rolling should not be done 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 as there’s a chance that it can cause premature labor.

Choosing a Foam Roller

Foam rollers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. At the end of the day, you want to pick one that’s the right firmness for you. Don’t forget to consider the shape and size as well. For instance, you might want to get a smaller one if you plan on travelling with it. 

different types of foam roller

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

Smooth Rollers: These rollers have a smooth surface. In other words, they’re not as intense as some of the other options. For this reason, they’re best suited for those who are new to foam rolling. Generally speaking, they’re also more affordable.

Textured Rollers: These rollers are the best option for those who want something that will help get rid of knots and muscle tension. Unlike the smooth variety, these ones 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 in your shoulders.

Foam-covered Massage Sticks: These devices are similar to rolling pins in that they are long and thin. Covered with foam, they are typically used on the arms and legs to relieve muscle tension. Depending on the design, you might also be able to use them on your upper back.

General Tips For Foam Rolling

Want to get started with a foam roller? If so, you might want to ask a trainer for help at the gym. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started.


  • Chances are, it will be a little painful, especially if your muscles are tight. For this reason, you want to start by applying light pressure to the area
  • You can adjust the pressure by increasing or reducing the amount of body weight that you put on the roller
  • In the beginning, roll tender areas for 10 seconds. Gradually work your way up to 30 to 60 seconds

6 of the Best Foam Rolling Exercises

Here are a few exercises that target different areas of the body. Why not give them a try with your foam roller?

1. Quad Exercise

Do you work a desk job? If so, this exercise might be just what you need. By rolling out your quads, you’ll get your blood flowing, which can keep the 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 knees. From there, roll it in the opposite direction until it reaches your hip flexors.

3. Continue rolling up and down 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

The calf muscles can be tight for a number of reasons. As it is, this can increase your risk of tears and injuries. For this reason, it’s best to roll them out when you get a chance. Here’s an exercise that you might want to start with:

foam rolling calf

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

2. Slowly place your body weight on the foam roller, lifting your body in the process. For extra pressure, cross one left over the other.

3. Move back and forth on the foam roller by extending your arms. Continue for 30 seconds—pay 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

Chances are, your hamstrings will need some work if you’ve been sitting around all day. Certain sports such as tennis or soccer may also cause tightness in your hamstrings. It’s important to loosen them as they’re more prone to tearing if they’re tight.

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 up 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 gluten.

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 back

Upper back pain is fairly common. Chances are, it is due to poor posture. For instance, it’s not uncommon for your back to hurt if you slouch in front of a computer all day. If that’s the case, you’ll want to loosen things up.

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—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 as a result of muscle tension, overuse, or poor posture. Don’t worry, though—you can easily fix that with a little bit of rolling action. Here’s what you want to do:

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

rolling hip

Your hip flexors can become tight if you sit for extended periods of time. 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 left 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.

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