6 Foam Roller Moves To Loosen Tight Muscles

Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle, Pain + Recovery, Training Advice, Workouts

By: // December 29, 2021

Foam rolling has become the way to perform self-myofascial release—a fancy term for self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points.

If you want to know how to loosen tight muscles, the self-myofascial release (SMR) technique can help!  It can increase joint range of motion and ease tension in the back. Foam rolling can also help reduce inflammation.

Basically, by applying pressure to specific points on your body you are able to help your muscles recover. Of course, getting a deep tissue massage is a nice way to go too, but it takes a lot of time and gets very expensive.


Why Use Self Myofascial Release?

SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements.

These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process called the Cumulative Injury Cycle. SMR is based on the principle of autogenic inhibition. When the pressure of the body against the foam roller is sustained on the trigger point, it will “turn off” the muscle spindle activity allowing the muscle fibers to stretch, unknot, and realign. This release is often accompanied by a reduction of pain SMR.

For as little as $25 you can find a basic foam roller and in 10 minutes begin that well-needed release your muscles need to stay pain-free.

Let’s look at the awesome health benefits of foam rolling before we get into six basic foam roller moves to loosen your tight muscles.

Health Benefits Of Using A Foam Roller

Middle aged woman using foam roller on thighs with help from young woman

Foam rolling and myofascial release have gained popularity in recent years as more research reveals the incredible benefits it provides for the body. Here are just seven science-backed benefits to take note of.

1. It Loosens Up Tight, Sore Muscles

Ever gone from lounging on the couch to hitting the pavement for a jog without taking the time to properly loosen up? You’ve likely felt extremely stiff.

Foam rolling is a great way to loosen up your muscles before a workout so you can get the most out of your exercise. One study conducted by the National Strength & Conditioning Association concluded that athletes who took advantage of foam rolling before exercising felt much less fatigued than those who chose not to foam roll.

2. Reduces Stress

High levels of stress can take a toll on your health, especially if you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape.

Constant stress is linked to increased hormones such as cortisol that stimulate your appetite, promote weight gain and fat storage, and disrupt your sleep. One university study from South Korea found that foam rolling can reduce cortisol levels, helping you better manage stress.

3. Prevents Injury

Injury prevention isn’t just about being careful, but about being proactive. A consistent routine of stretching and foam rolling can help keep pesky and painful injuries linked with tightness and overuse at bay by loosening up the muscles.

Studies have concluded that loosening up the muscles increases the compliance of the muscle-tendon unit, therefore preventing the body from demanding energy absorption and release that can exceed the capacity of the muscle-tendon unit that leads to injury.

4. Increases Flexibility

Foam rollers deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, and movement efficiency. Loosening up your muscles through foam rolling can also boost their elasticity. The more flexible the muscles, the more power they can produce.

In fact, a 2014 study found that foam rolling even increased an athlete’s range of motion.

5. Boosts Circulation

Proper blood circulation is important on a multitude of levels. Massages work to improve circulation through the arteries, veins, and capillaries in your body, which allows them to receive more oxygen to feel refreshed.

One study conducted by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association found that arterial stiffness was decreased while the vascular endothelial function was increased after using a foam roller.

6. Prevents Soreness

By increasing flexibility and blood flow, foam rolling can also prevent muscle soreness. A 2015 study conducted by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association concluded that foam rolling was significantly effective in lessening muscle fatigue and soreness.

7. Increases Range Of Motion

A 2010 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the range of motion in every major joint in the body decreases with age. This can cause everyday tasks to feel painful.

Decreased range of motion can also lead to injury. Foam rolling helps to increase range of motion and compared to static stretching before a workout, can increase muscle force.

Guidelines Before You Start Foam Rolling

Foam rolling activities should be done on muscles and tissues you identify as tight, stressed, or overactive. Most people can enjoy foam rolling on their own once instructed on how to properly perform the exercises.

During the exercises, it is important to maintain core stability. Use the drawing-in maneuver (pulling the navel in toward the spine) to maintain stability.

Foam Rolling Technique 101

Foam roll technique isn’t complicated if you understand a few key concepts. There are two main techniques: slowly roll back and forth to create friction and a rolling-pin-like ironing-out of the fascia.

The other roller technique is to simply hold still on a tight spot for trigger-point targeting to “melt” away knots.

A typical method to ensure you hit all the major muscle groups is to go from the bottom up: Start with calves, then your hamstrings, then glutes.

How To Use A Foam Roller

Here’s how to use a foam roller:

  1. Slowly roll over the whole area to investigate and soften your muscles approximately ten times.
  2. Find your sore spot or trigger point—pin it, hold it, lean into it, add pressure.
  3. Cross friction—knead it back and forth across the muscle.

6 Foam Roller Moves To Loosen Tight Muscles

Here are six simple foam rolling moves that cover the majority of common muscle issues.

For each move, spend at least 30 seconds rolling slowly and gently and if you find a “knot” or trigger points in the muscle you are rolling, stop for a few seconds and let the roller apply pressure to that spot.

It will be uncomfortable at first, but keep breathing and let the roller do its work. Momentary discomfort will lead to long-term relief!

It will also make future workouts better and prevent injury in the long run.

Back Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating Foam Roller Back Roll in a red tank top using a blue foam roller 1) Begin in a slightly reclined position with the foam roller under your mid back, feet hip-width apart.

2) Walk your feet slowly forward as the roller glides up your back. Stop and concentrate on any tight areas. (Note: do not foam roll the low back. Try a massage ball on either side of the spine to help relieve tight muscles.) 

3) Move forward and back for 30-60 seconds.

Calf Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating Foam Roller Calves in a red tank top on a blue foam roller 1) Begin in a seated position with the foam roller directly under the top of your calves and your hands just behind your hips.

2) Lift your hips off the ground and slowly pull your body backward so the roller glides up your calf. Move back and forth gently for 30 seconds, stopping at any tight areas.

Hamstring Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating foam roller hamstring in a red tank top using a blue foam roller 1) Begin seated with hands behind you, hips off the floor, and a foam roller under right hamstring.

2) Keep right leg relaxed and long with the left knee bent over the roller and left foot on the ground.

2) Begin to press into the left foot on the ground, slowly moving the body back as the foam roller rolls down the right hamstring. Keep your right leg relaxed as you roll.

3) Glide up and down the muscle for 30-60 seconds concentrating on any tighter areas.

4) Switch sides.

Related: 7 Health Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

IT Band Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating Foam Roller IT Band in a red tank top using a blue foam roller 1) Lay on your right side with your forearm down and the foam roller placed just above the knee joint.

2) Bend left knee and place left foot in front of the right foot.

3) Relax your right leg as you slowly roll yourself back so the foam roller glides up your leg. Move gently back and forth for 30-60 seconds, concentrating on any tight areas.

4) Switch sides.

Lat Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating Foam Roller Lat Roll in a red tank top on a blue foam roller 1) Lay on your back with the foam roller at armpit level, knees bent with feet on the floor, and hands behind the back of your head.

2) Twisting slightly to the right, push slowly into your feet so your body begins to move back and the roller glides down along your lats on the right. Return slowly to start.

2) Repeat for 30-60 seconds concentrating on any tight areas.

4) Switch sides.

Quad Relief

Chris Freytag demonstrating Foam Roller Quads in a red tank top on a blue foam roller 1) Begin face down with foam roller beneath the top of the thighs and hands below the chest with arms slightly bent.

2) Slowly press arms to straight pulling the body upward and forward so the foam roller glides across the front of the thighs.

3) If you choose, you can lean your body weight onto one leg and roll and then switch to the other instead of rolling both evenly.

4) Gently continue to push and pull the roller over the thighs for 30-60 seconds, concentrating on any tight areas.

Try these rolling moves before and/or after any workout, or use them at home any time you need to release your tightness or knots. You can do them every day, but 2-3 times a week is recommended.

Final Thoughts and Foam Rolling FAQs

Who foam rolling is best for:

Foam rolling and self-myofascial release (SMR) is for most people. Some conditions contraindicate the practice, however; when in doubt, check with a professional for any potential health conditions. Foam rollers are good for anyone who sits a lot and moves a lot, and anyone who loves to work out a lot.

Should you foam roll before or after a workout?

The question is often raised as to whether foam rolling before a workout or after would be better?

And the answer is pretty straightforward: You should definitely take some time to foam roll before your workout, and then you could consider rolling out the knots after your workout with the help of a roller.

You will gain the most benefit from foam rolling by doing it before a workout, though.

What about vibrating foam rollers?

The effects of adding vibrating foam rollers to SMR remain unstudied. Vibrating foam rollers often cost double the price of traditional foam rollers. However, vibration may simply feel good on your muscles. If you like vibration, you also may be more inclined to foam roll for longer.

What are the best foam rollers on Amazon?

  1. High Density (different length) Foam Roller 
  2. Trigger Point Foam Roller
  3. Medium Density Foam Roller
  4. Electric Foam Roller 
  5. Trigger Point Massage Ball –  I use this every morning for my low back pain routine. Great for targeted areas!
  6. Hyperice Sphere Massage Ball
  7. Massage Roller Stick

Printed from GetHealthyU.com


on October 3, 2021 at 11:37 AM Reply

Does foam roller permanently help to stop stiffness in the muscles if used everyday before and after exercise for the calf muscles of the leg? I am looking for a permanent solution that would make my muscles work normally in the long-run. Please let me know. I am searching up answers but cannot find them. My email is aliu45126@gmail.com Thanks

    on October 14, 2021 at 2:00 PM Reply

    Hi There - So foam rolling or the self-myofascial release (SMR) technique can help relieve sore muscles. It can increase joint range of motion and ease tension in the body part that you are foam rolling. It can also decrease inflammation in the body as well. Basically, by applying pressure to specific points on your body you are able to help your muscles recover. Now, it will not "permanently" stop stiffness in the muscles, but it will help your body to recover faster if you're using everyday before and after a long run. If you use it before a workout, you are loosening the muscles and getting them ready to work. After a workout, you are preventing the muscles from stiffening up and keeping the blood flowing after a workout. Let me know if you have any other questions!

on July 2, 2018 at 11:56 PM Reply

I actually use a pizza roller and roll my legs and thighs after i get out of the shower. I can always tell what area of my thighs need to be rolled more by the tension and how it feels. It is not only good for circulation it flattens out cellulite and prevents the fat from balling up. My friends are amazed how smooth it makes your legs. If you compare each leg you can actually see the difference in smoothness. I would love to try the big soft roller for hard to reach back areas and during stretching.

on April 14, 2018 at 6:50 PM Reply

My sister is having a terrible time with sciatica. Would this help her?

    on April 16, 2018 at 9:20 AM Reply

    Hi Barb - that depends! I'd recommend she speak to her doctor or a personal trainer based on her specific pain/injury. Foam rolling can definitely help with sciatica pain however, there are certain causes of pain, such as a herniated disc that make it so you should NOT foam roll as this can actually cause it to become worse. So, again it just depends on her specific injury so I'd encourage her to speak with someone about her specific case and whether or not foam rolling could be helpful or harmful.

on January 24, 2018 at 3:33 AM Reply

I have been using the form roller in my lower back and enjoyed it. I guess now I have to use it according to what I read above. I have found form rolling is fantastic .

on March 23, 2017 at 2:12 PM Reply

I've used the foam roller on my low back and loved it, but recently I read another article that said you should not roll the low back because the kidneys are there. Do you feel that it is ok? I never experienced any problems doing it and it always felt good, but I stopped.

    on March 23, 2017 at 7:40 PM Reply

    Yes - you are right - rolling directly on the 5 lumbar is not recommended. In the back roll photos in this article - it’s the mid to upper back I was rolling. Often suggested is using a massage ball (like a lacrosse ball) on either side of the low back to help relieve tight muscles - I actually do that everyday for my back. That being said - with a soft foam roller - I see lots of people rolling their low back at the gym and I have never heard anyone say they hurt themselves from it. SO it depends on the firmness of your roller - but you are right it isn’t recommended.

on August 23, 2015 at 7:30 PM Reply

It would be nice to print the article with the pictures in place. There are ways to do it but you have it so it is quite difficult

    on September 22, 2017 at 12:57 PM Reply

    Totally agree with you!! it's super frustrating to have this information only accessible online and it won't print with the current layout. I wish they would fix this!!!

      on September 26, 2017 at 1:09 PM Reply

      Hi again – we heard your request and have now enabled the images to be printed! Hope that helps!

      on September 25, 2017 at 1:37 PM Reply

      Hi Sarah and Mary - we're so sorry you're having issues. We are looking into it and will hopefully be able to fix it/give you an answer soon!

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