Foam rolling has become common practice for athletes. Labelled as a form of “self-massage” — albeit one that’s often more painful than a typical massage — foam rolling is intended to treat or prevent muscle tightness and soreness from exercise and day-to-day strain. However, you don’t need to be an athlete to use a foam roller as a part of your exercise routine — they have benefits for everybody!

The benefits

Foam rollers are often available at the gym or can be purchased in sporting goods stores. Different rollers are available with different firmness, sizes, and textures that may help target deeper layers of muscle. A foam roller is used by placing one’s body weight on it to put pressure on a targeted group of muscles. Rolling up and down across the foam roller is supposed to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and reduce tissue tension in the muscles to improve recovery and performance. 

Research related to how foam rolling can impact athletic performance and recovery is limited. One study demonstrated that foam rolling reduced pain in the quadriceps and improved recovery in the days after exercise. Reducing pain and other factors which may hinder athletic performance is critical and it supports the prevention of injuries. 

Another study evaluated the effects of foam rolling before and after exercise. Results demonstrated that rolling before exercise allowed for improved sprint performance and flexibility. Rolling after a workout, on the other hand, limited the workout’s effects on future sprint and strength performance, and also reduced muscle pain. 

Ultimately, foam rolling can be used to warm up, cool down, or it can be used on its own to reduce muscle pain and improve recovery from exercise — it truly is a great part of your exercise tool kit, no matter where you fit it in. Foam rollers need not be a tool used only in sport and strength and conditioning. For students who are hunched over several screens at a desk or on their phones for hours on end, foam rolling can also provide relief from back pain and general muscle tightness, and it can be done at any point in the day.

Foam rolling practices

For improved performance and recovery, it is necessary to be consistent with these practices while also maintaining good habits related to diet, sleep, hydration, and so on. 

Here are some tips on how to incorporate foam rolling into a warm up or cool down. Try to roll for 30 seconds in each position mentioned below, and work on focused spots of tight muscles: 

Calves: Sit upright with your legs extended and the foam roller under one or both calves. In this seated position, lift yourself up with your hands so that your weight rests on your calves on top of the roller, and roll up and down your calves. 

Hamstrings: Sit in the same position you use for rolling out your calves, but place the roller under one or both hamstrings. Lift yourself up with your hands, and roll up and down your hamstrings from the back of the knees toward your glutes.

Quads: Put yourself in a plank position on your forearms and place the roller under one or both quads while bracing your core. Roll down the roller until it is just above your knees, and then roll in the other direction toward your hip flexors. 

Upper Back: Lie on your back with the roller under the shoulder blades. Bending the knees and bracing your core, lift your hips up so that the back presses into the foam roller. Roll up and down between your shoulders and mid-back.

Lats: Lie on your side with the roller under your lat — it should be slightly below the armpit. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and press your hips up to roll from your armpit down toward your mid-back, and then repeat. 

Whether you’re a speedster on the track or on the keyboard at the office, a foam roller can have benefits for you. Try incorporating it into your routine however you can, whether it’s before or after a workout or after a long day at work. You deserve to treat yourself!

Happy rolling!