13 Best Foam Roller Exercises to Ease Muscle Soreness

self-massage foam rolling exercises
self-massage foam rolling exercises

Have you ever wished you could give yourself a massage? Well, actually, you can. One of the key benefits of massage is myofascial release. Myofascial release is a manipulative treatment that attempts to release tension that builds up in the fascia due to trauma, incorrect posture of inflammation (1).

Believe it or not? With a foam roller and proper instruction, you can do this at home, no personal trainer needed. Just a comfortable place on the floor to work and a foam roller, of course.

There are different types of foam rollers available, so check out “5 Best Foam Rollers to Buy For Recovery” on our website to find the one that is right for you.

Before or after a grueling workout, getting on the floor and foam rolling can be just what your muscles need for better performance and faster recovery time. Your body will thank you for it.

What Does a Foam Roller Help With?

According to Peter Dipple, head of sports and massage at the London-based Ten Health & Fitness, “Foam-rolling can help promote blood flow and break down scar tissue.

It could also help maintain normal muscle length, reduce pain and soreness, increase range of motion, and aid in recovery.

Foam-rolling is a great way to help relax your muscles. Even those who are inactive could see benefits, as foam-rolling exercises can help relax muscles that may have become tight from sitting at a desk all day” (2).

Foam rolling pre-workout heats up muscle tissue and provides a temporary increase in range of motion (3).

This increased flexibility before working out will help facilitate proper form and decrease the incidence of muscle substitution, which can lead to exercise-related injury.

Foam rolling post-workout increased blood flow to muscle tissue, which carries away metabolites and lactic acid that builds up in the muscle and causes post-exercise soreness (4).

13 Best Foam Roller Exercises 

foam roller exercises to ease muscle soreness

Lower Body

1. Hip Flexors 

How To:

Position yourself face down with your weight resting on your forearms, the foam roller underneath your upper thighs, and the tips of your toes (a forearm plank position).

Roll down toward your feet to position the roller at your hip joints then slowly roll back and forth using your forearms and toes to control the movement.

You can also do one side at a time by moving one leg out to the side of the roller.

2. IT Band

How To:

Position yourself on your left side with the foam roller under your hip, weight is resting on your forearm and the foam roller, keep ankles together, toes pointing forward.

Slowly roll up (roller moves toward your feet) and down (roller moves toward your head) over the IT band using your forearm to control the movement. 

Repeat on the right leg.

*Because the IT band is a fibrous tissue and not a muscle, it tends to be a very tight area, so take time to stop and breathe over tighter areas during the 30 seconds of rolling.

Repeat on the right leg.

3. Glutes 

How To:

Sit on top of the foam roller with your arms positioned behind you, cross one ankle over the opposite knee (in a figure four position), lean slightly toward the side you want to work on.

Roll back and forth, using the foot on the floor to control the movement. Angle your body from side to side to work all the muscles in your butt.

*This is a smaller area so take care not to fall off the roller

4. Quads /Thighs

How To:

Position yourself in a forearm plank position with the foam roller underneath your upper thigh.

Roll down toward your feet to position the roller at your hip joints, then slowly roll back and forth from hips to knees.

You can also do one side at a time by moving one leg out to the side of the roller.

5. Adductors

How To:

Lie face down on the floor with your weight resting on your forearms with both legs extended. Have the roller parallel to one leg. Bend the knee closest to the roller and lift that leg over the roller allowing your inner thigh to rest on top, roll very slightly toward your back, so your inner thigh has good contact with the roller.

Slowly move from side to side using your body to control the movement.

Repeat on the other leg.

6. Abductors

How To:

Position yourself on your left side with the foam roller under your hip, weight is resting on your forearm and the foam roller, bend the left knee and keep the right knee straight.

Slowly roll up and down while slightly angling your body side to side to get the entire muscle. 

Repeat on the right side.

7. Calves

How To:

Sit in a long sitting position with the roller under your calves, cross one leg over the other.

Lift your buttocks off the floor and begin to roll up and down the length of your calf using your arms and body to control the movement. Angle body from side to side to reach the entire muscle.

Repeat on the other leg.

8. Hamstrings

How To:

Sit on top of the foam roller with your arms positioned behind you, place the roller at your hamstrings just below your glutes and keep your left knee bent out to the side of the roller.

Roll up and down from below your glutes to behind the knee using your hands and right leg to control the movement. 

Repeat on the other side.

Upper Body

9. Thoracic Spine

How To:

Lay on top of the foam roller with your head, upper back and lower back parallel to the roller and your knees bent. Rest your arms comfortable to your sides.

Gently roll to one side, staying in between your spine and your shoulder blades, move from side to side in this area. 

Repeat on the other side.

10. Upper Back

How To:

Position yourself on the floor with the foam roller under your upper back, with your knees bent. Clasp your hands behind your head to support your head and neck.

Gently up and down from your belly button to your shoulder blades. Angle your body from side to side to work all of the muscles in your back (5).

11. Lats

How To:

Position yourself in a right side-lying position with the foam roller under your armpit, extend your right arm so that your forearm and elbow are in contact with the floor.

Cross your right leg over your left leg keeping your foot flat on the floor. Roll up and down from your armpit to the top of your ribs. Angle your body from side to side to work the entire muscle.

Repeat on the left side.

12. Shoulders

How To:

Position yourself in a right side-lying position with your shoulder directly on the roller and clasp both hands out in front of you. Cross your right leg over your left leg keeping your foot flat on the floor.

Roll up and down, keeping your shoulder in contact with the foam. Angle your body forward and backward to work the front and back of the shoulder.

Repeat on the left side.

13. Arms

How To:

Position yourself face down with the roller underneath the armpit of your right arm. Extend your arm out over the foam with your thumb point toward the ceiling.

Roll up and down with a focus on the area between your shoulder and your elbow.

Perform this movement with your palm down and your palm up to work all the muscles in front, back, and side of the arm.

Repeat on the left side.

Q&As

How Long Should You Foam Roll?

Foam rolling exercises can be done every day for 10 to 20 minutes sessions. Perform slow, short rolls for 30 seconds over areas of tension (which can feel gritty, lumpy, thick, or fibrous) followed by slower, longer rolls over the entire length of the muscle (2).

You can perform up to three sets of 30 seconds each with 10 second rest periods in between (2).

When to Foam Roll? 

  • Foam rolling is a great way to warm up before a workout, replacing your stretching routine.
  • It is excellent for relieving post-exercise soreness and muscle fatigue.
  • It decreases tightness and muscle tension after prolonged sitting or periods of stress.

Can foam rolling be harmful?

Foam rolling is a safe and effective practice; however, there are some things that you should avoid.

  • Avoid foam rolling areas that have been injured, as overstressing inflamed muscle tissue can lead to further injury, increased pain, and decreased range of motion.
  • Avoid foam rolling the lower back as mobility in this area can vary from person to person. 
  • Make sure that you are not holding your breath while foam rolling; it is common to hold your breath while doing exercises. Counting out loud can help.
  • Avoid rolling too fast, as slow, repetitive movement is much more effective for improving blood flow and releasing trigger points.
  • Avoid rolling directly over your spine or any other boney prominences. 
  • Avoid rolling over any area that becomes more painful after roller use.

The Final Word

Whether you are experiencing muscle fatigue and soreness after a hard workout or muscle pain from sitting for long periods with bad posture, using the foam roller is a safe and effective way to decrease tension and facilitate muscle recovery.

Be sure to tighten your stomach muscles while performing foam roller exercises to maintain proper alignment, protect your back, and strengthen your core at the same time.

When starting a new foam roller program, take it slow and pay close attention to your form.

If you experience severe pain in any area that is increased by the use of the roller or does not go away in a reasonable amount of time, you should contact your physician.

References

  1. Holland, Kimberly. “What Is Myofascial Release and Does It Work?” Healthline, 26 Jan. 2015, www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/myofascial-release. Accessed 17 May 2020. 
  2. Alger, Kieran. “The Benefits of Foam-Rolling — and 8 Foam Roller Exercises.” Openfit, edited by John Cogdon and Selina Tobaccowala, 13 May 2020, www.openfit.com/big-benefits-of-foam-rolling. Accessed 17 May 2020. 
  3. Risher, Brittany. “Foam Rolling vs. Stretching: Which Is Better?” Openfit, edited by John Cogdon and Selina Tobaccowala, 31 Oct. 2019, www.openfit.com/foam-rolling-vs-stretching. Accessed 17 May 2020. 
  4. Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S., K. Aleisha. “Here’s What Foam Rolling Is Actually Doing When It Hurts So Good.” Self, 21 July 2018, www.self.com/story/ what-foam-rolling-is-actually-doing-when-it-hurts-so-good. Accessed 17 May 2020. 
  5. “Dissolve Years of Tension in Your Upper Back with This Physical Therapist Approved Stretch.” Well+Good, edited by Ali Finney et al., 25 Jan. 2020, www.wellandgood.com/ foam-rolling-upper-back/. Accessed 17 May 2020. 
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