What Is a Foam Roller? And the Benefits of Using One

A Foam roller is a self-massage tool that you can use to iron out knots “also known as trigger point in your muscles.”

It looks like swimming pool noodle with more durability and a bit extra thickness.

This is what “foam rollers” looks like.

Foam rollers looks like


Rollers vary in many shapes, sizes, and firmness.

Long rollers provide more area for stability, balance and support, while shorter options are more versatile and convenient for travel.
A soft foam provides a gentler massage than a high-density version.
Surface of foam rollers comes in variety including a grid-like design or a ridged surface, which helps target hard-to-relieve knots and trigger points in the muscles.

Rollers can be categories in the following groups:

Soft density

Soft foam rollers

These rollers have more cushion to them.

They are designed for those who are looking for more comfort as opposed to the deeper massage of firm and standard rollers.

The soft density produces a massage that is gentler on the muscles yet the roller still maintains its form, even after heavy use.

Medium or standard density

Medium density foam roller

These types of rollers have a medium firmness, which makes them ideal for both self-massage and exercise. They provide just enough harness for deep massage while still having moderate cushion.

Firm density

Firm grid black foam roller

Firmer roller will provide a deeper, more intense massage.

These types of rollers are great for athletes and highly active individuals who often have very tight, stiff muscles that can benefit from the deeper work of these rollers.

How foam rolling work?

How foam rolling work

Foam rolling improves the quality of muscles tissue by ironing out the knots or trigger points in the muscles. 

Much like a knot in a rubber band, a “knot” we experience is a concentration within the muscle fiber, says Rob Grieve, a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at the University of the West of England in Bristol, England.

In other words, the “knot” is a tissue that is dense and fibrotic, rather than a smooth and pliable. 

Not even stretching can get this knot out.

Using the rubber band analogy again, if you pull on (stretch) the knot, it just gets tighter.

“Foam rolling” works by ironing the knots in the muscles, increasing blood flow and making it smooth. This helps to improve the quality of muscle tissue while stretching and lengthening it. 

This is pretty much how a foam rolling works. Pretty cool huh? 

History of foam rolling

History of foam rolling

This technique of self-massage using a foam roller can be dated back in the early 1980s.

It was used in the Feldenkrais method as the body supports to do standing balance work. In 1987, physical therapist Sean Gallagher who was doing his Feldenkrais training started using “foam rollers” as a self-massage method much like we use it today.

And after experimenting with them, he had one of the dancers at the Broadway shows, Jerome Robbins Broadway tried them out.

Soon after, the rollers became extremely popular within the Broadway dance community as an affordable self-massage technique.

But it is not until 2007, foam rolling really started growing in popularity when it got associated with Fascia Training.

Today, from CrossFit boxes to Ballet studios, you can witness the use of foam rollers.

Some of the most common areas of the body to use foam rolling technique to iron out knots are:

Foam Rolling Exercises:

  • Calves
  • Upper-Back
  • GLutes
  • Adductors
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • IT-Band

An addition to these exercises, foam rollers can also be used in a variety of exercise and fitness programs.

Pilates and yoga routines are one of popular places where foam rollers are heavily used. In these fitness programs the foam roller can be used to create an instability that challenges the core, promoting strength and better balance. 

Foam rolling benefits

Foam rolling has tons of health benefits, including improving flexibility, reducing muscle soreness, correcting muscle imbalance, and preventing muscle related injury. 

Here are some additional benefits of foam rolling according to Dr. Mercola:

  • Increased blood flows to your muscles, which improve delivery of oxygen during your workout.
  • Pain reduction. Helps to relieve muscle tension, especially after a hard workout.
  • Better Injury prevention 
  • Improves range of motion (increased range of motion.). Foam rolling can help stretch out and lengthen your muscles, which can help you get more out of your workout.
  • Performance enhancement. Shorten recovery time. Foam rolling can help with muscle repair so you aren’t left feeling as sore and sorry the next day.

How to Foam Roll

How to foam roll

To use a foam roller is very simple.

1. You first position your muscles across the roller and use your body weight to massage the tender area where you feel the knot.

2. You’ll spend about 30 seconds on each area or more if you find a sore, tender spot. Even if you don’t feel any particular tightness, it’s still recommended to spend about 30 seconds on each muscle or area.

Tips: As you roll, take deep, slow breaths to help your muscles relax. And be mindful of your body, head and spine alignment. 

There you have it!

Foam rolling is an inexpensive way to take good care of your body.

Just spending 8 to 10 minutes before and after your workout can help prevent injury, increase your range of motion and boost your exercise performance.

If you’re ready to roll it out!

Grab this free printable beginner foam rolling exercise guide to iron out those knots in your muscles. 

Misato Alexandre


After making healthy living a priority, Misato lost over 20 lbs in less than 90 days. Instead of weight loss being a dreading experience, living the lifestyle of health and fitness granted her more happiness and joy than ever before. She co-founded Fitwirr to make health and fitness simple for everyone and share her tips through writing evidence-based articles on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise.

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