FOAM ROLLER 101: Top Tips for Flexibility and Less Pain

Do you ever look at foam rollers at the gym or fitness studio and wonder what they are, and how to use them? Or maybe you have seen them for sale in stores. 

Well they are one of my all-time favorite tools to help with muscle imbalances and soreness!  

 I’m going to share with you exactly what you need to know so you can start using them to upgrade your own body in just a few minutes a day!  

Let's take a deep dive into everything you need to know about foam rollers,

 The history is actually pretty interesting, since they are a relatively new addition to fitness! 

Foam rollers only first started being used back around the 1980’s. There is a form of bodywork called the Feldenkrais Method, which was created to help people move pain-free. 

Back then, they used the kind of foam rollers you find in packing materials, and they were used mostly to help people improve their balance. 

But after awhile, one of Feldenkreis practitioners started using a foam roll as a self-massage tool, and it wasn’t long before others joined in. They were surprised at how pressing up against the foam roll helped with aching muscles. 

Eventually, professional dancers started using foam rolls to help cope with overworked muscles …  and then physical therapists got on the bandwagon, and started incorporating them into their practice. 

It wasn’t long until the fitness world dove in, back in the early 2000’s. 

There are lots of benefits of using foam rollers. If you’ve ever used one before- give me a “like” in the comments below! 

Ok, so here are just three of the many benefits: 

The first benefit is that foam rollers can help lower your risk of developing muscle adhesions. Adhesions can happen when you hold your body in a position for a long period of time, like sitting, or you do the same movement over and over again, like running. 

An adhesion occurs when collagen builds up between your muscles, making it hard for them to glide over each other. Rolling your muscles over the foam roll can cut that collagen development back, so your muscles can move more freely. 

Second, rolling over the muscles can release tightness within the muscle, improving your range of motion, which means you feel more flexible and relaxed.

 Third, sometimes those tight muscles can mess with what’s called the length-tension relationship between your muscles. This one is more complicated but it affects a lot of people. 

When you move your body – whether you’re doing something simple like bending your arm or standing up from the couch – it actually requires the use of many muscles at the same time. 

If one of those muscles is tight, over time it can throw off the rest of the movement chain, leading to imbalances, pain, and even injury. 

Foam rolling can help even out those imbalances. 

Now, I’ve got two things you should know about when it comes to WHEN to use a foam roll. 

Number one, if you’re using a foam roll as part of your warm-up, you only want to briefly roll over each muscle, to increase blood flow and reduce tension. 

That’s because holding your muscle against the roller too long can desensitize it, which can interfere with its ability to contract – and you definitely want it to be able to fully contract during your workout! 

But if you are foam rolling AFTER a workout or at another time in the day, you can hold your muscles on the roll to help reduce tension on tight areas for up to 90 seconds. 

OK, that’s a lot of info. Are you still with me? Give me a “like” if you are! 

Perfect! Before I get into the demo, I want to give you a couple of basic rules for foam rolling: 

  • You never want to roll over your joints … keep it focused on your muscles!
  • You probably will feel some discomfort, but you should never feel actual pain.
  • Make sure you keep your abs engaged and that you hold good posture while you’re rolling. You want your muscles in optimal position to make the most of your foam rolling session!
  • It’s always a good idea to check with your doc before you begin anything new, and that includes foam rolling, especially if you have an injury, medical issue or are on any medications. 

Now, I’m going to show you three of the most important areas to use the foam roll on. We are all different, but most of us are really tight through these parts of the body.  

First,  roll out the lats, which are the big muscles in your upper and mid-back. These are tight for nearly everyone who does any resistance training, or anyone who sits a lot at a desk, driving, etc. 

You’re going to lie on your side, with your bottom arm raised over the head, the foam roll just below your armpit, your thumb pointing up, toward the ceiling. You might have to roll forward or backward just a little to feel the most benefit from this. 

Then, slowly roll down toward your hips, stopping whenever you feel a tender spot. 

If it feels extra painful, try to take some weight off the roll. 

Our second area targets your calves, which feel SO GOOD after you are done! Basically, you want to sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and your calves on the foam roll. 

Cross your left leg over your right to add more pressure. If that’s too much, you can do both calves at the same time. 

Slowly roll calf area to find the most tender spot. Hold that spot for until the discomfort is reduced. Then switch legs and repeat on the other side! 

Now, we’re going to roll a muscle that not many people know about, but one that can cause a surprising number of issues for people. 

It’s called the piriformis, and it literally can be a pain in the butt for some people! 

Your going to sit on the foam roll, and cross your left foot over your right knee. Lean onto the left side, so that your left hip is pressing into the roll. Now, you are going to roll around your hip to find a tender spot. You might have to roll back and forth a little. 

Once you find the spot, hold for 30 to 90 seconds to release it. 

This is another one that can have a big payoff that you will notice as soon as you stand up and walk around! 

I hope this post has demystified the foam roll for you! If you don’t have a roller at home, you can pick one up online or at any sports store for about $10-$20.  

You can view demo videos and instructions for this foam rolling session in the SimplyFit Club workout app!

If you need any more guidance on any of this, I’m here to help.  Click here to schedule a free phone consultation.


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