Foam Rollers: How To Use Them for Maximum Benefits

Natalie Cecconi
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What is foam rolling?

Foam rollers are simple, cylindrical rollers with 2 to 3 inches of foam that helps to relieve muscle stiffness, soreness and discomfort of your joints.

Foam rollers are used extensively for self-myofascial release (SMR). Let me explain: myofascial release is a therapeutic technique that aims to relieve muscle tension and pain. The primary goal of SMR is to loosen up your tight muscles by applying pressure to them. This helps to increase the blood flow, remove any lactic acid and improve the flexibility of the muscles.

This is a simple, effective and efficient way in which you get to stretch your tight muscles whenever you feel the muscle stiffness.

Another great benefit of using a foam roller is the ability to roll out your tight muscles before a workout. That’s right!

As you heat up before exercising, your muscles tend to get tighter.

However, it is imperative that they are loose and flexible before you start your workout as muscles can become strained while exercising on a tight body.

Foam rolling before a workout helps loosen your muscles and get them warmed up to enable you to work out at your optimal level.

Using the foam roller after exercising is also important to relieve tight muscles and relax tension. It is the best way to stretch and stimulate your muscles if you find that you are unable to stretch before or after a workout.

What are the benefits of using a foam roller?

Foam rollers are pretty inexpensive and have a number of benefits for athletes.

First off, foam rollers are great for increasing circulation. Since these rollers are made of firm foam, using them forces circulation in the areas you’re rolling to increase blood flow. Using the foam roller is going to hurt a little but not nearly as bad as a deep massage. However, the coverage you get with a roller is better than with your hands.

Secondly, foam rollers can help vary up your core workout. Most people who use foam rollers do so because they want to address some type of leg problem. But foam rollers are also great for hitting your core. Just lie on the roller with your back, stomach, or both on it and roll back and forth to hit your muscles.

Thirdly, foam rollers are great for people who have a hard time identifying which muscles are causing pain or discomfort. Finally, foam rollers are going to help you have a more supple muscle. The foam roller is going to help break up the knots you have in your muscles and loosen your muscles that feel tight. This will also improve your overall range of motion.

Muscle Massage

The Roller suggests you roll on your muscles, not just your joints. This means that the pressure that you put on your muscles should be deep – inside the muscle fibers, not on the skin.

The right combination of light and deep pressure can lengthen muscle fibers, reduce adhesions, encourage blood flow and break up scar tissue.

As you scrunch and stretch a tight and overused muscle, massage the surrounding tissue to keep it from fusing back together again.

On an empty stomach, Rolling can cause light nausea as toxins are released. Finish Rolling before eating or take B12.

When to start rolling: As a beginner, you should release your chronic tightness before adding on to it. Start off rolling after a workout (but before showering) to help relieve soreness and release toxins. If you suffer from chronic tension, like back pain or stiff shoulders, you may want to start rolling each day. This will help prepare you for further Rolling.

How to begin rolling: Lie on the floor with a soft mat or towel under your elbow or knee. Work slowly. The idea is to do it right and do less overall by practicing perfect form.

Warming Up

And Cooling Down: Foam Roller Before and After Workouts

Any runner worth their salt will tell you that getting a dynamic warm up is one of the most important steps in being prepared for a run. Even if you’re just taking a stroll, you’d be wise to warm up before you start. A dynamic warm-up activates muscles that may not get an adequate stretch during the routine activities of your day.

But a quick jog or even a long walk isn’t going to get you all the way there. If you’re looking for a way to warm up, loosen up, or recover completely, you need to be using a foam roller.

If you’re going to partake in any kind of exercise, you need to get as much blood into the muscles as possible. Foam rollers, which have become increasingly popular, involve lying on a (generally cylindrical) foam roller while using your body weight to apply pressure to certain areas of the body.

This increases the blood flow to the muscles by helping to break down adhesions in the muscle tissue as well as in the fascia. The fascia is a type of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and acts as a shock absorber for the muscle.


It is the feeling of deep muscle soreness and pain that lets you know that you have taken a good workout. A workout in which you pushed your body enough to meet its fatigue threshold.

After such a workout, it is vital to give your muscles the nutrients they need to heal, reduce inflammation, and prevent scar tissue formation.

And the best way to do that is with a foam roller.

To use a foam roller for maximum benefits, you must target the key muscle groups that needs immediate attention … the Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, tibialis anterior, IT band, glutes, deltoids, pectorals, and arms. Massaging these areas can produce a quick onset of muscle relief.

All you need to do is get yourself a foam roller … and roll. Or rather, wait for an instantaneous massage, hydrating, and recovery.

Rolling helps in encouraging blood flow and also works to help eliminate toxins from your muscle fibers, promoting massage.

The massaging action helps in breaking down scar tissue and encourages flexibility in your muscles. This leads to reduced muscle stiffness and also allows quicker recovery after strenuous workouts.

Using a foam roller after a workout is superior to using a massage therapist.

What are the differences between foam rollers?

Can they be used directly on the skin or do you need to use them with pads?

Foam rollers are affordable and easily available, used for self-myofascial release or SMR before and after exercise and workout.

Most of the rollers are cylindrical shaped tube with several holes at the end for allowing foam to be inserted to get it into the cylinder shape. So they are made to be used with foam.

To get into the real technicalities, foam rollers are used to mimic and stretch muscle, fascia and connective tissues without causing damage.

The foam can also be easily manipulated to provide pressure and targeted pressure on sore and tight muscles. Rolling on foam helps restore normal range of motion (ROM), helping with muscle recovery.

Surface Texture

The surface of the roller is one thing to consider depending on your roller experience. If you are new to rolling (and are likely still very stiff), it’s a good idea to start out with a softer roller (either foam or PVC). These will give you a bit of give while rolling. As you become more familiar with the roll and your body, you will naturally find yourself landing on the firmer rollers. There is no right or wrong—its what works for you.

Foam rollers are easier to find than PVC rollers. That’s because PVC rollers are more popular with physical therapists, while many people who use foam rollers for their own fitness at home don’t want the excess softness of the PVC in their way. Currently, the most common foam rollers are the 2” x 6” as well as the 1 inch by 6 inch varieties. These are both good starts as you can go smaller to work on smaller muscles or larger to address larger muscle groups.

While the roller can be used in a variety of ways (back, upper legs, calves, etc), I like to focus on two main applications.


If you are just starting out with foam rolling, then you should begin with lower density foam rollers. These beginners rollers are usually 18 inches long and available in half or full rounds. They are softer and often half the price of their high density counterparts.

If you are looking for cheaper options, then these foam rollers are a prime choice because they are durable and you can easily grip on them to roll.

But if you know for a fact that you are going to stick with it for a while and want to take the next step to higher density, full round high density rollers are another good choice. They are 24 inches long, beginner friendly, and have a thicker foam core so they are more durable.

Headaches, neck and back pain occurs when your ligaments and muscles are too tight, which basically makes your nervous system suffer.

This is because the pain signals are being carried through your muscles. Because of these pain signals, the stress level of your body increases and this results in muscle tension.

The whole process eventually affects your nervous system.

That is why foam rolling is a very good approach to help you reduce this tension and get your body back to a good shape.

Length & Diameter

There are many different variations of foam rollers out there and for the most part, they’re similar in quality. So in general, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a life-changing foam roller. But you do need to get the right size for your body and your needs.

The dimensions of a foam roller are length – measured in inches – and diameter – measured in inches (or centimeters). The most common sizes are 4 inches (for travel) up to 7 or 8 inches for a regular size or 11-13 inches if you’re really tall.

It can be a bit overwhelming trying to choose a foam roller, especially if you’re a newbie. So how can you determine the ideal size?

The best advice I can give you is to approach the process methodically. Here are a few steps you can take that will help you find the right size foam roller.

Other Styles

While the rollers designed to look like dumbbells are the most popular, there are a variety of foam rollers that you can choose from.

The idea is the same for each type, though the shape can vary, of course. There are any number of companies selling their own brand of foam rollers. Some are more expensive than others and some are made of better material. Below are some types of roller you might want to check out.

Tips for using a foam roller

If you browse the internet on foam rollers, you will find a ton of articles with advice on what is the best foam roller and what is the best foam roller for your back.

But I want to give you something more. What I’m going to give you is a detailed guide on how to use a foam roller.

I will tell you everything you need to know about foam rollers and how to use them to get the maximum benefits.

So without further ado, let’s get right into it.


Here is where most people mess up. Choosing something based on a friend’s recommendation or because it looks cool.

I think it is fine to choose something based on your personal preference, but you need to do a bit of research first.

If you are going to apply a foam roller to the soft tissue area, then buy one that is soft. The soft roller is designed to work the deep muscles. The tight muscles are on the outside of the body.

You need a hard roller to get this tightness. So choose a roller that is firm or harder. The purpose of this hard roller is to break up the adhesion of scar tissue and protection bands to help release the tissue.

Foam rolling exercises

Are everywhere these days (and for good reason), but did you know that every foam product out there can be used for a variety of purposes, each with a specific area or muscle group intended for your attention?

Since foam rollers and other products can be used in so many different ways for different purposes, they are the ultimate tool for dynamic flexibility, which is just what you need to improve your sport and prevent injuries at the same time. Dynamic flexibility is not just about simply being able to move or touch your toes. Dynamic flexibility is the ability to freely move or stabilize all of the major joints in your body while also being able to control the center of gravity. A lack of flexibility in this way can be a major limiting factor in your performance and can lead to injuries. If you use a foam roller, you will be able to focus on dynamic flexibility to improve performance, decrease the chances of injuries, and generally enjoy the experience of your workouts more.

In addition to being a great tool to use in physical training and rehabilitation, foam rollers can be used to relieve soreness and increase flexibility as well. If you have not yet begun incorporating foam rollers into your exercise routine, there are a number of reasons why you will want to start now.

Glutes and hamstrings

What foam rolling can help with

The glutes and hamstrings are critical to balance, motion, and pain. These muscles are the biggest muscles in the body. They function as prime movers for power and movement.

The glutes also play a crucial role in basic postural alignment. They help to maintain proper lumbar-pelvic separation. A weak and tight glute will make it hard to have overarching pelvis and shoulders.

This is important to understand, as, if you have a weak and tight glute, you may get back pain from a range of causes. I may even go as far as to say that all back pain is due to a lack of a weak and tight glute.

Frequent sitting will limit the ability for the glute to do its job of proper pelvic and trunk postural alignment.

This will make a weak glute and tight hamstrings even more serious and therefore more prone to pain in the future.


Hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, chest, calves, arms, feet, neck……..

Oh yes they are, by the methods of foam rolling and prolotherapy, even before I start working my patients physically.

For the lay person foam rolling is self-massage with a foam roller to massage and loosen tight fascia released after exercise and strains.

For the practitioner foam rolling is an adjunctive tool in a toolbox of effective soft tissue regeneration techniques – (but no part of the prolotherapy reparative triad of injections, blood flow and tissue contraction).

For myself and the people I know who have used it, foam rolling is part of the daily multi-modal pain management routine to help with flexibility and pain.

Foam rolling is essentially a self-massage technique with a longer lasting benefit than conventional massage. The effectiveness of this practice is mostly down to the activation of the stretch reflex (or muscle contraction induced by the release of a contracting muscle). The stretch reflex is used in sports and exercise as a means of improving flexibility and is localised to the muscle fibers being stretched. The release of a muscle, either by stretching, swelling, trauma or injury, causes the muscle to contract in a slower, less forceful but sustained manner – the opposite of a normal contraction. This prolonged contraction creates a sustained stretch in the muscle.


Have you ever had shin splints? Many people have experienced this painful and annoying condition at some point in time. A study found that about 60 percent of athletes at their sports colleges reported to have experienced this painful condition in the past.

Shin splints are a specific type of tendinitis where the painfully inflamed tissues in the lower leg are actually the tissues of the lower leg muscles. The term shin splints refers to the inflaming of the tissues of the tibialis anterior muscle located at the front, deep below the shin. They are also known to occur in other leg muscles such as the anterior tibial muscle groups (tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, and extensor hallucis longus). The characteristics of shin splints are pain in the lower leg stretching from the front part of the knee to and behind the inner ankle, tenderness when pressed on, tenderness when flexed (bent upward), and sitting with the legs flexed (bent upward) can be painful and worsen the pain.

IT Band

This one is called the quad roller. It’s appropriately named as it’s great for rolling out your quadriceps (quads).

To use the foam roller on the quads, kneel down and place the roller on the ground behind you, resting it on your quadriceps. Then, roll forward and backward on the roller.

You should feel this pressure on your quads, and it’s a good idea to also feel a gentle stretch. You may have to adjust your body so that you are applying different amounts of pressure when you roll forward and backward.

Try changing the pressure gradually so that you don’t aggravate your muscles.

This foam roller is handy for working out the tightness in the quads that’s typical from cycling or working out in the gym.

Upper back

The core is one of the biggest muscles in your body and the powerhouse of your movement. It is what stabilizes your spine and transfers energy. Training your core with a foam roller is simple …and it’s the exact opposite of what you might think.

In order to get the best results, you should not roll your spine on the roller. Instead, roll your ribcage and collarbone.

The upper back foam roller is designed to target the delicate muscles between your shoulder blades. It is excellent for relieving back pain, but it also treats shoulder impingement problems caused by spending too much time at a computer or phone.

Even if you are sitting whenever you are using your phone, the upper back foam roller can help you get a better look at anything you are looking at.

This is because it addresses thoracic kyphosis, which is a natural curve in the thoracic region of the spine. It is also a very important type of cervical spine curvature for correct posture.

But first things first. You have to find where your sensitive spots are and how to approach them. And since the upper back foam roller is in the middle, you will want to practice using both sides.

So grab your upper back foam roller. Place it between your shoulder blades and keep your upper back pressed against the floor.

Other foam roller uses

If you are just getting started with physical therapy or have never been to my practice, it is important to understand what a foam roller actually is.

You can think of a foam roll or foam roller as a type of massage tool that helps you loosen your muscles before and after a workout. It has several benefits in terms of relieving muscle tightness and soreness.

You probably understand how each muscle group feels when it is too tight or too sore. You probably even know how it feels to have a few hours of relief from stretching a painful muscle.

Or you might just be somebody who doesn’t like when their muscles are tight, causing discomfort in your body.

If so, the foam roller is the right type of tool for you. Continue reading to find out what foam rolling is, how to use it, and the many benefits it can have on your body.

Yoga Prop

Foam rollers are one of the most popular and versatile fitness props in the market. They are used by people of all fitness levels for a wide variety of different workouts and purposes.

You can use a foam roller for your regular workout routine. Or maybe you want try something new, like foam rolling. But you can’t figure it out how to use foam rollers right. This is your guide.

So what is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that uses a foam roller. This workout technique is increasing in popularity faster than any other fitness tool or technique.

From elite athletes, to celebrities, to beginners, people of all types and ages are jumping on the foam roller bandwagon.

But how do you use foam rollers correctly? Is there the right way to do it? Is it even safe?

Keep reading to find out how to foam roll like a pro and get all the benefits of this increasingly popular workout technique.

How to Use Foam Rollers for Recovery

When you exercise, your muscles experience micro-tears. If you don’t give your body the downtime it needs to repair and recover, those micro-tears will turn into even deeper injuries.

Strengthening Core

Foam rollers have become a popular piece of gear among strength and conditioning coaches and athletes.

Athletes use foam rollers to release any muscle tightness or knots, which can limit their performance during the workouts. Foam rollers also help develop the necessary mobility and stability in muscles. Foam rollers also offer several other benefits which we will delve into shortly.

For athletes and gym goers, foam rollers help enhance mobility of major muscle groups such as shoulder girdle, back, hip and the legs. For those engaged in plyometric exercises or workouts that involve a lot of jumping or quick change in direction like basketball, soccer, tennis, football and tennis, foam rollers can help improve their recovery remarkably.

Apart from athletic performance, foam rollers also offer several other benefits. For starters, foam rollers improve your flexibility. Stretching exercises such as the splits and hurdler stretches can be done while using a foam roller. Foam rollers also help increase your range of motion.

Foam Rollers and Massage Therapy

If done correctly, foam rollers are much safer than other forms of massage such as deep tissue massage which can lead to serious muscle or ligament tear. Not only that, foam rolling is also much cheaper than receiving massage or spa treatments.


You’ve probably heard about how stretching before and after a workout is important for lowering your risk of injury. But perhaps you don’t know just how helpful it can be.

While stretching alone won’t magically eliminate all your aches and pains, it will definitely help your mind and body feel better. First of all, stretching improves the circulation to the muscles. The increased blood flow allows the muscles to work at their best and most efficiently, which in turn gives you enough strength to last throughout your workout. And the best part? Thanks to improved circulation, you may even feel less soreness in your muscles after a workout.

Stretching also reduces stress in your muscles and joints. And all that leads to less delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS as it’s commonly known. DOMS is that pain you feel after a strenuous workout that initially hurts but then becomes a dull ache.

Improving Balance

One of the most common uses of a foam roller is to improve balance, a skill that is critical for all athletes. Every athlete I have asked who uses a roller has stated unequivocally that it has helped their balance.

Improving balance is an important aspect of improving the quality of your life and the length of your athletic career. As you improve your balance, there is less likelihood that you will slip or fall in the middle of a workout or competition. It will make you a more effective athlete and will lower your risk of injury.

Being on a roller is like being on a surfboard. When you are surfing, you are easily rolled off-balance by a wave surge ‖ or by being hit hard by a bigger surfer! Being able to maintain your balance is critical to staying on the board and staying in the game. So how does this relate to roller-blading and roller-skating? These are sports, like many others, where balance, mobility, and agility are critical ‖ all basic components of balance.


A foam roller is a cylindrically shaped piece of elastic material about six inches (15 cm) in diameter that is covered with plastic foam. The plastic foam acts as the hard, unforgiving part of foam roller, while the cylinder acts as the softer, elastic part. The latter is designed to bend and flex as you roll onto it leading to increased blood flow to the regions that have been rolled.

There are many different reasons for using foam rollers, especially for self-myofascial release.

The name “self-myofascial release” is a bit of a mouthful. It basically refers to the process of rolling over a hard surface relaxes tense muscle fibers to reduce pain and stiffness.

The health benefits of foam rolling are numerous. They include:

  • Enhanced sports performance
  • Muscle recovery
  • Alleviated muscle soreness
  • Decreased recovery time between workouts