I never expected to be writing about how to foam roll properly. Initially, I was not a fan. I hated foam rolling with a passion. See, we’d had practice for nearly four hours already. Then our coach “recommended” we stick around for another 30 minutes. My stomach had been grumbling for over an hour, and it was time to hit the café. Why did we have to stay longer to foam roll?
I didn’t even know what foam rolling was, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to learn. My friend from Germany strolled into the abdominal area of the gym with foam rollers for all. Normally, he was my boy. Now I wanted to mercilessly beat him senseless with the long foam rollers he was handing out. And I was not alone in my seething anger due to the postponement of dinner post-practice.
He started explaining what was going on and how he was going to studying any improvements in flexibility over a 90-day period. Eyes rolled, and we started our attempts at dry humping the rollers as we loosened out hip flexors. Two minutes on each body part equated to 22 minutes of foam rolling every day.
What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release. By applying pressure to certain areas of the body, the rolling can relieve pain. Many have found the foam rolling can also increase range of motion and offers flexibility improvements. When you foam roll, you can also reduce soreness and tightness as you increase blood flow to certain areas.
How to Foam Roll Properly
I hated foam rolling from the jump. It made my body hurt, and it was uncomfortable, but by the end of three weeks, I was 100% sold. My body felt better, my flexibility seemed to be improving, and soreness was alleviated in a minor manner. I haven’t stopped foam rolling since. And due to my now physical therapist friend, I learned how to foam roll properly from the jump. I see dudes flopping around on rollers at the gym, and I know they’re not getting much benefit from their efforts.
To foam roll properly, you’ll want to roll a majority of your lower body and back. The video above does a better job of explaining how to foam roll, but here’s the written version of how I do it:
With you stomach on the floor, slide the roller under one side of your body near your hip bone. Roll down 3-8 inches on your hip flexor. You’ll want to roll slowly on your hip flexor. Go for two minutes. Then switch to the other side. Go two minutes on each side.
Next, you’ll place the roller under one of your quads with your stomach facing the ground. As you’ll be covering a larger area here, you’ll want to start the roller in the middle of the thigh and roll in a 12-18 inch area. Make sure to avoid getting within one inch of your kneecap at the bottom of your roll. Go two minutes on each leg.
The vast majority of people I see foam rolling in the gym either work their IT bands or their back. To foam roll your IT bands, simply lay on your side like a side plank. Slide the roller under the side of your leg and let your body weight rest on the roller. Roll back and forth on the side of your leg. If you haven’t foam rolled before, you’ll definitely feel this one. As always, go slow and roll each side for two minutes.
Sit on the ground like you would in a chair, but keep your legs straight in front of you. Slide the roller under one leg until it sits in the middle of your hamstring. Slide the other foot towards you and press up. You hands will be behind you. Your bodyweight will be split between the roller, your foot, and your hands. Roll back and forth for two minutes on each side.
In a similar position as hamstring rolling, you slide the roller under one calf and roll for two minutes on each side. Make sure you twist your calves (slowly) to hit all the different calf muscles. Two minutes on each side.
Many people roll their back. While there are many ways to foam roll your lower back, the easiest is to set the roller in the middle of your back parallel to your spine. Then roll side to side. Only hold this roll for as long as it’s comfortable.
You can roll your upper back in a similar manner as the lower back. You can also twist the foam roller and apply pressure to any knot or tight area in your upper back. This is my preferred method. Hold for a comfortable amount of time.
5 Tips to Ensure You Foam Roll Properly
Know You Will Be Sore
Before you start foam rolling on a daily basis, understand that you’ll be pretty sore for the first couple weeks you foam roll. I’d start for one minute on each body part the first week you roll. Then go to two minutes in week two. By week three, the pain should subside, and you’ll find your body feeling better than it has in a long time.
Most people I see at the gym foam roll way too fast. Foam rolling is a deep tissue massage. You’re supposed to put pressure on the muscle in order to reduce the kinks and knots. If you’re rapidly rolling, you won’t be getting nearly as deep in the muscle tissue as you could be.
Hold the Roll
If you find one area of your body is exceptional tight or there is a large knot, you can just sit on that area. As you roll and find a tight area, stop rolling once you found the knot or tightest area and keep your body pressure right on that area for a minute or two. This will help reduce tightness more than anything else.
Many people only roll a small section of their IT band because they don’t keep their bodies straight while foam rolling. While rolling your IT bands, there should be a straight line from your head to your toes. No bent back and mid-section. This will help you hit a larger section of your IT bands.
One at a Time
I prefer to roll my hip flexor on one leg and then immediately move to the quad on the same leg. Then I switch to my other leg and go hip flexor, then quad. You can do the same with your hamstrings and calves.
How to Foam Roll Properly
By using the tips in this post to improve your foam rolling, you’ll find flexibility, soreness, and tightness slowly slip away from your body. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll become a foam rolling fan for life.
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.