Foam rolling has become the way to perform self-myofascial release—a fancy term for self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points.
The self-myofascial release (SMR) technique can help relieve sore muscles. 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.
If you’re not using a foam roller, we have one question for you: why not?
Maybe you don’t know how to use it, or what it’s for or you’ve watched someone roll on top of it while cringing and wondered “why would someone do that?!”
So to answer your burning questions, here are three quick responses:
Yes, it can hurt a little. Yes, foam rolling really works! Let me help you add foam rolling to your routine!
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
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:
- Slowly roll over the whole area to investigate and soften your muscles approximately ten times.
- Find your sore spot or trigger point—pin it, hold it, lean into it, add pressure.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
IT Band Relief
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.
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.
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?
- High Density (different length) Foam Roller
- Trigger Point Foam Roller
- Medium Density Foam Roller
- Electric Foam Roller
- Trigger Point Massage Ball – I use this every morning for my low back pain routine. Great for targeted areas!
- Hyperice Sphere Massage Ball
- Massage Roller Stick