Foam rollers are used to initiate self-myofascial release, which is an impressive way of saying relaxing your muscles yourself by massaging them. It is possible to get some of the benefits that foam rolling provides by simply rubbing your muscles with your hands. However, using a tool like a foam roller that is designed specifically for this purpose has much more noticeable results. You can achieve similar results with a massage gun but there are areas you can not reach with a gun that you can get with a roller.
Before getting into how to use a foam roller correctly, it is important to know what it is used for and where it supposed to be used to get the most benefit.
What Is a Foam Roller Actually Used For / What is it Doing?
This tool used by runners and other athletes is used on muscles to relax them, releasing tension and pain. It is commonly used before or after a workout, race, or other athletic activity to aid in recovery or enhance the performance of the muscles for the upcoming activity. Also used for relaxing muscles and for strength training are exercise balls, which are a great investment.
When it is being rolled across the muscles, the roller will touch and stimulate trigger points which are present all over the muscle and surrounding tissue. The foam roller will massage the trigger points and muscle tissue effectively, making the muscles and tissue softer and more elastic. When the muscle is softer and more pliable it will do a better job moving the bones, thus leading to better performance. There you have it, nerds, that is the science part!
Where on the Body are Foam Rollers Supposed to be Used?
This is sort of a rhetorical question because the short answer is any muscle on your body. However, there are certain muscles and areas which get the most benefit from using these rollers. Here is a list of the most common and effective places to use a foam roller on your body:
- Upper Back
- IT Band
- Hip Flexors
- Buttocks (glutes, for you muscle heads)
There are roughly 600 muscles on the human body and that means there are 600 places you can use a foam roller. You have muscles in your mouth and that is not a good place to try to stick a foam roller. Not only is that just gross, but it is doubtful you could fit one in your mouth. Please do not try and then say you heard it here! If you are already interested in picking one of these up, please check out our ultimate buyer’s guide on the top foam rollers on planet earth right here.
How to Actually Use a Foam Roller on Your Muscles by Group
Because the methods vary slightly for each muscle or muscle group, we are going to list the common ones here with the correct usage instructions.
Neck- Lay down on your back and place the roller under your neck like a very awkward spikey pillow. Make sure the roller is crossing your neck perpendicularly. Put your hands on your hips and start to roll side to side until you feel the roller hitting your sore spots (trigger points). The roller is not the thing rolling in this situation, it is stationary. You are rolling and it is just chilling under your neck. Got it?
Upper Back- Again for this one you are laying down with the roller underneath your upper back. Bend your knees and make your arms straight. Push your hands and feet into the ground pushing your butt off the ground ending up arching your back. Roll forward and backward while the roller massages your muscles.
Hip Flexors- This one can feel a little weird but bear with me. Get down on your tummy and put the roller under the sore hip. Spread your legs and work your body weight on top of the roller. This will start rubbing the sore muscles. Do not stay on one hip too long, it is best to switch hips every minute or so. If you overdo it, you may make them worse.
Glutes- Put the foam roller under your muscles bending your knees with your feet on the ground. Move back and forth while the roller massages the tension in your buttock muscles.
Feet- Warning- do not try to do both feet at once or you will fall and embarrass yourself (even if you are alone). One foot at a time, no matter how curious you are! Put the foam roller under one of your feet while standing up, bend your knee, and move your foot across the roller perpendicularly. Switch feet every couple of minutes until you feel the muscles relaxing. Please wear some socks for this because that roller touches all over your body and you do not want feet cooties getting everywhere.
Back of Thighs and Calves- Lay on the floor and position the foam roller beneath one of your thighs or calves. Lift your leg making sure your heel is not touching the ground. Push your hands into the floor and raise your butt up a little. Move forward and back letting the roller push into your muscles. Switch every couple of minutes to avoid overdoing it.
Arms / Triceps- Get down on your side and put it underneath your armpit area, moving your arm over your head. Roll up and down paying attention to each sore spot. Change to the other arm as needed. If you are working on your arms you should consider checking out these battle rope exercises!
Lower Back- This one is easy. Place the roller under your lower back (just like the upper back). Bend your knees placing your feet and hands flat on the floor. Push down into the ground and gently roll back and forth while the roller massages your muscles. Pause and pay special attention to any sore spots until you can feel the muscle starting to release. You may pop your back doing this but do not freak out, it is natural.