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What is a Foam Roller? How Do I Use One? What to Avoid!

What is a Foam Roller and How Do I Use One?

You’ve probably seen your favorite Instagram fitness gurus doing it, and you’ve seen people on the mats at your gym doing it, but what in the world are people doing when they’re balancing and rolling back and forth on those foam cylinders? They’re foam rolling!

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-guided myofascial release in which you do exactly what the name implies: You roll individual parts of your body along a high density foam cylinder.

What are the benefits?

Myofascial release allows for restoration of healthy tissue as well as normal circulation. Foam rolling allows for deep compression which helps relax tight muscles and adhesions that form between and around your muscles. According to Chris Howard, C.S.C.S and LMT at Cressey Performance, adhesions can create weak points in the tissue, and a lack of uniform contractions in the muscle can cause pain and even injury.

How do I do it?

There are different exercises to target different muscle groups, but each exercise involves having the foam roller beneath the muscle group you’re targeting, and using your bodyweight to create the pressure that you desire. For more foam rolling exercises that are not included below, check out this article.


Start by sitting directly on top of your foam roller with your hands palm-down on the floor behind you to help you keep your balance. Slowly roll yourself forward and back to target all areas of your glutes. 


Begin on your foam roller as you would if you were targeting your glutes. This time however, roll forward and back so that you’re able to cover the entire length of your hamstring. 


Keep your hands in the same position that you had them in when you targeted your glutes and hamstrings, but have the foam roller at the top of your calf muscles, directly below the back of your knees. Roll yourself forward and back to cover the entire length of your calves. 


You’ll be using the exact same motions as you did for your hamstrings, except this time you’ll be targeting your quads. Get into a pushup position, and rest your quads on top of your foam roller. Using your hands and the tips of your toes to balance you, roll yourself forward and back to target the length of your quads.

What should I avoid?

Foam rolling seems easy enough right? It is, for the most part. There are, however, some things you should avoid to prevent injury.

 Don’t Rush

Take your time as you roll out each muscle group. It may feel really good to rapidly roll back and forth, but Vasquez explains that you’re really not getting rid of any adhesions when you do that. This is because you’re not giving your brain enough time to tell your muscles that they need to relax enough to reap the benefits of foam rolling. You shouldn’t be covering more than one inch of your targeted area per second. Any faster than that and you’re escaping the benefits that foam rolling can provide.

Don’t Dilly Dally

I know I know, I just told you not to rush through, but now I’m telling you not to take too long. Which one is it? Both, actually. Moving too quickly won’t give you any benefits, but remaining in one spot too long can actually cause you damage. If you focus too much pressure for too long of a time, you run the risk of hitting a nerve or damaging your tissue which can lead to bruising. Find a happy medium. Vazquez recommends spending only twenty seconds on each tender spot before moving on.

Painful Areas

I know this sounds counter-productive, but trust me on this one. If there is a specific area in which you’re feeling pain, avoid it. Instead, target the areas surrounding the pain in order to slowly loosen up the entire area.

Lower Back

It might sound like foam rolling your lower back would feel really good, but you shouldn’t try it. Your spine is more exposed as you get closer to your lower back because it doesn’t have shoulder blades or as many muscles to protect it. Monica Vazquez, NASM CPT and USA Track and Field Running Coach explains that because of the lack of protection, your spinal muscles will panic and contract to protect the spine. Instead, opt for using stretches like the child’s pose to release tension in your lower back and stick to foam rolling your upper back only.

Whether you have issues with muscle soreness after your workouts or not, you can still reap the benefits of foam rolling. You can check your sporting goods store’s website to see different varieties of foam rollers. I like this one from Pro-Tec since it’s small enough that I can take it to the gym with me, but large enough that it effectively targets my muscle groups. Happy foam rolling!

By: Kayla Harwick

1 comment

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