5 Common Foam Roller Mistakes You’re Making

Chances are, you’ve probably heard somewhere about the benefits of foam rolling using a “foam roller” and how it can help soothe muscle aches, increase a range of motions, and speed up recovery. 

After learning about self-myofascial release, I excitedly bought my first roller and hurried home to iron out those annoying and painful trigger points in the muscles.

I thought I’d literally foam roll my full-body to get nice, muscle relaxation, not knowing some body areas are absolutely taboo to foam roll.

That’s right.

There are pitfalls to foam rolling. Even what seems like a fairly simple thing to do (roll a roller under target muscles(s)) can be harmful if you don’t know what to avoid.

Don’t make the mistake I did!

Here are 5 common foam rolling mistakes most newbies make.

But since you are a savvy exerciser who educates yourself in the proper foam rolling techniques by reading posts like this!, you can skip right through these mistakes and go on your way to quality massages your tired and sore muscles deserve. 

But before we get to those common foam rolling mistakes, let me start by giving you a bit of background info on this recent fitness craze. 

Since it was first introduced in the Feldenkrais Method in the early 1980s doing balance work, foam rollers have become incredibly popular.

Especially in the last five years, the growth in popularity is exponential. Everyone from personal trainer to professional athletes like NBA players is seen rolling their bodies with a foam roller. 

Almost every gym and fitness center around the world carries a wide selections of foam rollers. 

Today, foam rolling certainly is the preferred method of self-massage.

Many people refer to it as the poor man’s (or woman’s) masseuse, indicating daily quality massage are no longer a perk reserved for the selected few, but available to all. 

It’s so indulging, therapeutic, and imperative that Jordan D.Metzl, M.D., author of the Exercise Cure and contributor to RODALE Wellness said, “if you buy one piece of exercise equipment for the rest of your life, make it the roller.”

Needless to say, many agree.

A foam roller is by far the most convenient, reliable, and inexpensive massage therapist money can buy. 

Simple Styrofoam cylinders cost around $18 to $30 a piece, but it’s money well spent when you consider how it can improve your tissue quality and flexibility and prevent injuries. 

The saving in terms of your investment is apparent when you compare the price of a roller to a one-hour deep tissue massage, which can easily run you well over $100. 

This makes the foam roller your body’s new best friend. 

After a hard workout, all you need is a few minutes with the roller to soothe your tired muscles. 

But these foam roller benefits can only be achieved when foam rolling exercises are done correctly.

So if you are new to foam rolling, be sure to check out “7 Best Foam Roller Exercises for Self Myofascial Release to Ease Muscle Aches.”

Even if you’ve been a user for quite some time now, it’s good to get a refresher and maybe learn a new rolling exercise or two.  

But the real downside of not getting these foam rolling exercises right is that it can be harmful. 

And if you’ve never read warnings of foam rollers, the chances are you may be making serious mistakes. 

Here are the 5 most common foam rolling mistakes that can cause you harm and must avoid. 

1. Foam Rolling Your Lower Back

Avoid foam rolling the lower back as it creates too much pressure or force on your spinal disc and vertebra. A better alternative would be foam rolling your hip flexor muscles, IT-band, and the gluteus medius.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), foam rolling your lower back may alleviate your pain temporarily, but not advised for several reasons. 

First, the lower back is often not the cause but the recipient of pain. Foam rolling the lower back does not get to the root of the problems. 

Second, the area suited for foam rolling should have sufficient bony protection.
The lower back region may be protected by large muscles, but not enough body protection that can protect your organs such as liver and kidneys. 

According to Kyle Stull, MS, LMT, NASM-CPT, “a better alternative would be to address the area that is causing the problem. Foam rolling muscles that make up the hip flexors, the gluteus medius, and the calves may help reduce the amount of tension in the back.”

The bottom line is, don’t foam roll your lower back. 

2. Rolling Directly on The Pain

A painful area may be the result of tension imbalances elsewhere in your body.

For example, the IT-band is one of the most tender spots in the body.  

But it’s not always a good idea to foam roll it directly. According to Dr.Mercola, “he tightness of the IT-band is often caused by imbalances in the TLF and the gluteus medius.”  

Because the IT-band is attached directly to the TFL, the TFL helps to stabilize the knee and assist in hip abduction, but the prime mover is actually the gluteus medius.

It’s best to foam roll the muscles that are attached to your IT band (your gluteus maximus in your buttocks and your tensor fasciae latae along the edge of your hip) rather than the IT band itself.

Plus, foam rolling a painful and inflamed may increase inflammation and inhibit healing.
It’s often best to roll just a few inches away from a highly sensitive area first and then use large, sweeping motions to cover the entire area, advises D.r Mercola.

3. Foam Rolling Too Fast 

While it might feel great to roll back and forth on a foam roller, doing too quickly won’t give your muscles enough time to adapt.

Once you identify the tender area, you should apply light pressure for about 30 seconds or until it is gone. 
Plus, rolling too fast won’t actually eliminate any adhesions. 

It’s because “you need to give your brain enough time to tell your muscles to relax.” says Monica Vazquez, a certified personal trainer and USA Track and Field Running Coach and contributor huffingtonpost.com. 

Your best bet is to foam roll slow so that the superficial layers and muscles have time to adapt and manage the compression.
Again, feel where the tender spot is with the roller, and use short, slow rolls over that spot.

4. Rolling The Trigger Point Area for Too Long

It is often recommended that once you identify the trigger point, spend a considerable amount of time ironing it out the knots with the foam roller.

But spending more than 5 minutes (let alone 10 minutes) on the same area in an attempt to get the knot out with a foam roller is unnecessarily long, especially if you are using all your body weight and force to knot it out.

As Dr. Mercola suggests, placing sustained pressure on one body part might actually damage the tissue or even a nerve, which can cause bruising.

Ideally you want to slowly roll the target area until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot while relaxing the target area and until a discomfort is reduced. Anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds on each tender spot is recommended. 

It’s also important to manage how much body weight you’re using during rolling exercises. 

For example, when working your IT band, you can manage the pressure and weight by planting your left foot on the floor. This takes some of the weight off the roller and reduce some discomfort.

Foam rolling can at times uncomfortable (especially around your tender spots), but it should really be mild discomfort, not whole a lot of pain.

5. Not Using Proper Body Alignment

Not being mindful of body alignment and using bad posture as you roll can cause more harm than good.

Using a foam roller properly requires you to hold your body in various positions, which requires strength.
If you use improper form or bad posture while doing this, it could exacerbate existing postural deviations and cause injury.

The best way to ensure you’re using the proper posture is to work with an experienced personal trainer or use a foam roller guide reference (foam roller exercise poster or chart) for proper body positioning.

If it’s hard to tell whether your form is correct, try performing foam roll exercises in front of the mirror. This way, you may be able to spot problems and correct your posture more easily. 

Final Word

There you have it!

Five most common foam rolling mistakes you need to avoid.

Foam rolling is a great inexpensive and convinient way to maintain your tissue quality and prevent injury. But you can only fully reap the full benefits of foam rolling if you perform foam roller exercises correctly and avoid common but major mistakes like the ones we covered. 

Have you been foam rolling the areas you’re not supposed to? Which one of those foam rolling mistakes have you made? Leave us a comment below to let us know.

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