6 Foam Roller Moves To Loosen Tight Muscles

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

By: // January 27, 2016

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. Maybe you’ve watched someone roll on top of it while cringing and wondered “why would someone do that?!” Maybe you just don’t buy the hype.

So to answer your burning questions, here are three quick responses:

Yes, it hurts a little!
Yes, it works!
And yes, you should be doing it!

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

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.

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 has 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

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 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.

How To Use A Foam Roller

It’s not difficult to use a foam roller; just use this three-step approach!

Here’s how to use a foam roller:

  1. Roll over 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” 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 roller1) Begin in a slightly reclined position with the foam roller under your mid back, feet hip-width apart.

2) Walk 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 roller1) Begin in 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 body backwards so 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 roller1) Begin seated with hands behind you, hips off the floor and 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 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 roller1) Lay on your right side with your forearm down and the foam roller placed just above knee joint.

2) Bend left knee and place left foot in front of 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 roller1) 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 roller1) Begin face down with foam roller beneath the top of the thighs and hands below 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.

READ THIS NEXT: The Best Home Gym Equipment Under $40

Printed from GetHealthyU.com


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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