Basic foam rolling techniques

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Foam roller FAQ

What’s a foam roller?

Lightweight cylinders made of foam. They come in many degrees of firmness, often white and blue coloured rollers are softer while black is firmer. Foam rollers are available to use in most gyms and can be purchase at most athletic stores with the price ranging from $15-$50.

What they do?

Compared to a deep tissue massage. Provide myofascial release (relaxes the fibers that surround the muscles and connective tissue), increases circulation, which speeds recovery and relieves soreness, and increases mobility on the muscles and joints.

When should you use them?

As part of a warm up or cool down. Be sure to be warm beforehand as it can be quite aggressive. When you have muscle soreness post exercise, stiffness in the joints, and pains that affect mobility, the foam roller is highly recommended.

Who should use them?

Athletes and those who regularly engage in intense exercise, those who aren’t able to go for a professional massage, and those who need aid in flexibility training and myofascial release.

Things to consider.

  • Use sparingly for a few minutes at each area.
  • Avoid areas that are very sore to pressure and directly at joints, including ribs.
  • Opt for gradual rocking movements rather than aggressive rolling up and down the muscle.
  • Perform three movements for each section: Roll, hold, and rock.

Rolling lengthens the muscle, holding works the tense areas and rocking helpsrelease the fascia. Keep core tight and proper alignment when getting intoposition.

How do you use it?

  • Start with warming up the whole body with a few minutes of light movement or do your workout. Take a roller that is firm enough for your comfort level, you may need to start with one that is softer before going on to using a firmer roller.
  • Lie on the floor with your roller, starting with the low back. Place roller where the hip meets the low back, engage your abs (keep them tight) as if you’re doing a crunch. Gently roll the body over the roller to just before the back ribs, roll back. Once you find a tender spot, hold the roller close to the area for about 10 seconds, then gently rock back and forth until the muscles release and the tense area becomes less hard.
  • Then move to the calves and hamstrings. Place roller under one or both lower legs and lift your self up onto your hands, engage core and repeat the same three moves (roll, hold, and rock). You may choose either one or both legs depending on the amount of pressure that’s needed for you to find the tense spots but to also offer release.
  • Then progress to front thigh, your quadriceps and rector femoris. Position your self in a plank on your forearms and lie onto the roller, I’d recommend only rocking side-to-side and holding to release the fascia. Take time to move side to side to work all the quad muscles then work up to the hip flexors (where the leg meets the hip) and roll up and down.
  • Next work another hip flexor known as the tensor fascia latae under the side hip just above the leg. Hip flexors are common to be tight and shortened after exercising and excessive sitting. Rolling up and down the muscle may help lengthen these shortened fibres.
  • Turn over to work the gluteus muscles, rock side to side instead of rolling back and forth to work the fascia.
  • Place roller under the arm to target trapezius, and post deltoid, or your upper back and shoulder, noticed I avoided the ribs and neck in this routine as they are very fragile. I’d recommend gradual static stretching for those areas. I also avoided rolling onto the Iliotibial (IT) band, which is along the side of the legs. This is a very sore area for most and can be very painful to roll over. Instead focus on the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and glutes. They are attached to the IT band and by having them relaxed will provide relief for the IT band.
  • Afterwards drink plenty of water. You may notice some inflammation and warmness to the muscles, which is ok. However, swelling and bruising may indicate a too aggressive foam rolling, go lighter and use a less firm roller and avoid the up and down rolling motions. Work the routine a few times per week up to every time you workout. Pay attention to the areas of tightness but include the whole body, as the source of tightness in one area can be caused by tightness in connecting areas.

— Submitted by Florence S., University of Saskatchewan