When you have sore and tired muscles, or tight muscles from a nice, intense training session, there is nothing better than a good massage. Sadly, a good massage is expensive, either in money or goodwill. That is why we are grateful for foam rollers.
Foam rolling is an excellent tool for serious self-massage that can relieve muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation, and can also help you improve your range of motion.
In this article, we will take you through how to incorporate foam rollers into your workout, including when to foam roll, exercises to do, and things to consider when starting out. We will also share some of the best foam rollers that you can buy today to start benefitting.
When & How to Foam Roll
Foam rolling can be done before or after a workout. Before a workout, it can be done to warm up the muscles and reduce your chances of getting injured during a workout. It can also be done after a workout to decrease the likelihood and intensity of muscle soreness. Foam rolling can also be done on rest and recovery days to reduce tension and relax the muscles more generally.
Foam rolling should be conducted on the large muscle groups, such as the quads, glutes, and shoulders. It can also be used on the back, but, of course, care should be applied.
Avoid using the foam roller on your knees, elbows, or ankles as it is easy for the muscles and ligaments in these groups to become hyperextended and get damaged.
It is generally advised not to foam roll when you have a serious injury, unless under instruction from a doctor or physiotherapist.
How exactly you will use your foam roller depends on which muscle groups you want to work, and we have provided some example exercises below. But there are a few general rules to keep in mind when you get started with foam rolling.
- Start with light pressure and build up the intensity over time to avoid injury. Your bodyweight applied is the main factor that will influence pressure and intensity.
- Start with just 10 seconds of rolling per muscle and slowly work up to between 30-60 seconds at a time.
- Drink lots of water and stay hydrated after foam rolling to aid recovery.
Also, bear in mind that foam rolling shouldn’t really hurt. Yes, if you have sore muscles, this soreness will be more pronounced when rolling, but generally speaking, rolling itself should not cause you pain. If it is, the chances are that you are pressing too hard and should relieve pressure. If it still hurt after that, you might consider whether you are injured.
Choosing A Foam Roller
There are a variety of different options to consider when choosing a foam roller. Finding the right one for you depends on what part of your body you want to work with the roller.
The first thing to consider is the style of the roller. You will probably be choosing between a smooth roller and a textured roller. Smooth rollers are cylindrical with a smooth surface and are often the best choice if you are just starting out with rolling. They offer a less intense and more controlled massage. Textured rollers are covered with ridges and knobs that are designed to push deep into those big muscle groups. These are ideal for working out knots and tensions in the legs and shoulders but are probably too intense for areas such as the lower back.
In addition to these standard cylindrical rollers, you can also get foam-covered massage sticks, which can be ideal for getting into harder-to-reach areas, and foam massage balls, which can work well for smaller muscle groups.
The other main consideration is the size of the roller. There is the length of the roller, with short rollers just a foot long and long rollers that can be three feet or longer. Shorter rollers are effective for the calves and arms, while longer rollers offer benefits for the larger muscle groups.
Then there is the size of the cylinder. Larger diameters tend to give you more control when rolling, but some people can find the elevation makes it difficult to control their bodies and get into the position that they want. Find other home gym equipment recommendations here.
5 Best Foam Rollers
Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller
USN is one of the biggest names on the market when it comes to meal replacement shakes, so they give If you know that you want a textured roller to work into big muscle groups, perhaps as a runner or lifter, then this premium roller from Trigger Point is a great option. It is a fairly wide roller, with a 5.5-inch diameter, ideal for working into the leg muscles. The texture is a mix of tubular and knobbed fingers, plus some flat areas, so you can work into different muscles with different techniques.
- Textured roller
- 13 inches long
- 5.5-inch diameter
- Knobbed and tubular fingers
- Hollow core
FX Foam Roller
If you prefer a smooth roller to work into your back or if you are just starting out with foam rolling, this is an excellent option, and you can choose from three different sizes. The roller comes in a variety of different colours and lengths but they are all six inches in diameter. Smaller options can be a good choice for travel.
- Smooth Foam Roller
- 6 inches diameter
- Three sizes: 12, 16, or 32 inches in length
- Five colour options
Fit Beast Foam Roller Set
This formula is ideal for anyone looking for low calories and carbs but lots of protein. Choose from If you want a variety of options when it comes to foam rolling, then consider this comprehensive but affordable set from Fit Beast. It includes a large textured roller ideal for working into the big muscle groups in the legs, and then a smaller smooth roller ideal for the back and neck. It also comes with both a smooth and a textured roller ball ideal for smaller muscle groups, like those in the bottom of your feet.
- Foam Roller Set
- Textured Roller
- Smooth Roller
- Textured and smoother small roller balls
- Includes free PDF and YouTube tutorial
Brazyn Morph Foam Roller
If transportability is a big concern for you, especially when you travel, then this collapsible textured roller is a great option. The roller is 14.5 inches in length and 5.5 inches in diameter, ideal for most rolling activities. But if flattens down to just 1.85 inches and weighs 1.5 pounds to easily fit into a suitcase.
- Textured Foam Roller
- 14.5 inches in length and 5.5-inch diameter
- 1.85 inches when flattened
- 1.5 pounds
Result Sport Roam Roller
If you want to get started rolling, and you want an affordable textured roller, then this option from Result Sport is an excellent choice. Measuring 34 cm by 15 cm, it has both knobbed and tubular fingers as well as flat sections so that you can achieve a variety of different massage effects with the same roller.
- Textured Foam Roller
- Knobbed and tubular fingers
- Made from EVA foam and PVC
Best Foam Rollers Exercises
Brace yourself in a plank position on your forearms with the foam roller against your quads. Use your forearms to move your body backward and forwards so that the roller massages the front of your quads.
Do the same for hip flexors but move the roller further up your body so that it presses against your hips. You might want to do one side at a time, bending one knee to place more pressure on one side and relieve the other.
Still on your front, extend one leg as normal and open the other to the side. Place the roller under the inner thigh and then roll yourself from side to side to work into this group.
Start in a seated position with your legs extended in front of you and place the foam roller under your calves. Apply pressure by crossing one leg over the other to create weight. Place your arms behind you and use them to move your legs forward and backward over the foam roller.
The hamstrings use the same process, but you will have the foam roller up under your hamstrings, which will lift your seat up off the ground. Extend one leg and keep the other bent with your foot on the ground for support and to control how much weight you drop onto the foam roller.
This is the muscle group along the outer thigh between the knee and the hip. Get into a side plank position with your hip balanced on top of the roller. With your lower arm providing support on your elbow, use your other arm to roller forward and backward to work the muscle group. Focus on the hip area and avoid getting too close to the knee.
For this nice big muscle group simply sit on the roller and move yourself forward and backward. Work the sides of the glutes by turning slightly to the side and bracing yourself on the ground with one arm, and crossing the ankle of the side you aren’t working over the other.
This is the muscle group on the side of your torso underneath your arms. Lie on your side and put the foam roller underneath your arm pit, with your arm extended out above your head with your elbow supporting you on the ground. Your other arm will be braced in front of you and can be used to roll your body. You only need to move a few inches to work this muscle group.
To work the side of your shoulders, get into the same position, but rather than extend the arm closest to the floor over your head, place it close to your body along the floor so that your outer shoulder is braced against the roller. Use your other arm and abdominal muscles to roll.
Get into a sit-up position lying on the ground and then place the foam roller under your upper back, which should elevate your whole pack off the ground. Use your legs to roll between your shoulders and the middle of your rib cage.
If you want to work your lower back, you will probably want a roller with a smaller diameter. Like on the ground in a sit-up position and brace the roller under your lower back. Just getting into this position and placing a little weight on the roller is great for the lower back. But you can gently use your legs to slide yourself up and down an inch or so.
Like in a sit-up position with a smallish roller under your neck. Don’t move the roller, but carefully turn your head from left to right to let your neck gently press into the roller.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
The benefits of foam rolling for you depends on the type of physical activity that you do and how you choose to incorporate foam rolling into your self-care routine. But below are some of the top benefits of foam rolling.
Ease Muscle Pain
Foam rolling can reduce inflammation in the muscles, which can lead to faster recovery and ease muscle pain. Studies have shown that a 20-minute rolling session after an intense workout significantly decreased the kind of muscle soreness that shows up the next day.
Used appropriately on the lower back, foam rolling can also ease the kind of lower back pain that occurs from sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
Mobility refers to the range of motion that you have when you use your muscles, and regular foam rolling can increase yours. One study showed that a combination of foam rolling and static stretching is significantly more effective at improving flexibility and range of motion than stretching alone.
This kind of massage can significantly improve blood circulation, which is another important recovery aid, and also means that nutrients are delivered to the body where they are needed more effectively, which can improve muscle development.
There is a direct connection between the body and the mind. Tight muscles can leave you feeling stressed, and your muscles might tighten up when you are stressed out. A foam roller session can reduce tension in your body and mind. Studies have shown that foam rolling can reduce stress significantly more than rest and recovery alone.
Since foam rolling loosens and breaks up your fascia, which is the connective tissue that contributes to cellulite, regular foam rolling can help reduce the appearance of cellulite. However, research in this area is incomplete and the results may be temporary.
Yoga also offers many benefits for muscle relaxation and recovery. Read our yoga guides here.
Why does foam rolling hurt so much?
While you should definitely feel the effects of a foam roller, it should never hurt. This is generally a sign that you are applying too much pressure and you need to reduce the body weight that you are placing on the roller.
How often should you foam roll?
If you are committed to foam rolling, you should roll before or after every workout for 10-15 minutes and can also roll on recovery days. If you are rolling with the right level of body weight, there is no reason that you can’t roll every day.
Can you overuse a foam roller?
Yes, you can overuse a foam roller if you work a single muscle group for extended periods of time. Each muscle only needs 30-60 seconds of attention in each foam rolling session.
A good muscle massage can do a lot to prepare your body for an intense workout and reduce the possibility of injury and aid in recovery and reduce soreness post-workout. It also feels pretty good and can reduce stress and tension (including the stress of finding someone else to give you a decent massage).
The key with foam rolling is to start slow, and gradually build up the time and intensity of the massage. If you try to do too much too soon, you can do more harm than good. Also, never foam roll an injury without the input of a professional.
- Foam Roller Benefits, Risks, and How To – Healthline
- How to Use a Foam Roller to Warm Up and Cool Down – Runner’s World
Last update on 2022-07-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API