Incorporating foam roller exercises into your fitness regime can relieve sore muscles and help protect against injury. They also improve balance, flexibility, strength and muscular awareness. Foam roller exercises relieve tight muscles in a way that can't be accomplished with stretching alone. The foam roller shape allows for elevation to increase extension for a better stretch and the cylindrical shape targets adominal muscles and balance.
Foam rollers are commonly used to help with balance, myofascial release, self massage and stretching. They are also used for rehab, prevention and management of chronic problems, golf swing practice, Pilates and yoga.
Foam rollers or foam logs are six inches in diameter and are sold in a variety of lengths, colors and textures. There are four basic roller sizes for balance training. A good starting point is using half round foam rollers with flat side down. Once you've mastered half round rollers, progress to using round foam rolllers. You can also purchase instructional videos and other gear for using your rollers.
How Foam Rollers Work
Anyone working to improve physical fitness can benefit from using foam rollers in their regular fitness program. Using foam rollers is a great way to warm up and cool down after exercising. A foam roller works by using your body weight to put pressure on muscle knots to relieve pressure, as well as prevent future knots.
Foam rollers are an affordable solution to the high cost of traditional massage therapy. You get immediate relief using self-massage techniques, rather than waiting for your massage appointment. Plus, you can use your rollers again and again as needed without any additional investments.
How to Use Your Foam Roller:
- Putting direct pressure on the sore muscle, roll back and forth for 60 seconds or until the tight muscle releases
- Focus most on the muscle knot or trigger point
- Repeat rolling on the injured area two to three times a day until relief is found. Then continue to roll two to three times a week to maintain relief
- Avoid rolling over bony areas, tendons and joints
- Stretch the area well following foam rolling
Foam Roller Exercises
Back Stretch – Sit on one end of the roller, then lay down so the roller is supporting your head and spine is in line with the roller. Bend your knees for balance and bring your arms straight up, pointing toward the ceiling. Drop your arms over your head, stretching from gravity. You will feel your latissimus dorsi muscles stretch and thoracic spine extend.
Chest Stretch – Sit on one end of the roller, then lay down. Rest your head on the roller with knees bent, feet flat on the floor shoulder width apart for balance. Bring both arms in front with elbows bent at 90 degree angles and forearms parallel to the ground. Allow gravity to stretch the muscles of your shoulders and chest.
Abdominal Strengthening Exercise – Sitting on one end of the roller, lay back so that your head is again supported on the roller. Stretch your arms out to your sides like a "T." Bend your knees at a 90 degree angle, shoulder width apart, feet flat against the ground. Tighten your abdominals and try to pull your belly button to the back of your spine, avoid tucking your tailbone under you. Holding neutral position, slowly raise one knee up so your thigh is perpendicular to the ground. Lower the leg back to starting position and alternate legs until you are tired. Increase difficulty by raising both arms over your head while you perform the exercise.
Thoracic Spine Mobility – Lay back on the roller with your spine perpendicular to the roller, knees bent and hips off the ground while keeping your body in a flat position. Roll back and forth from your shoulders (not neck) to the bottom of your rib cage. This exercises improves thoracic spine mobility by full movement in each segment.
Glute Roll – Sit on the roller, legs slightly bent and extended in front of you. Lean back, placing your weight on either your right glute or left glute and roll across the gluteal muscles. Move slower through tighter areas.
Quad Roll – Lay face down supported by your elbows and roller under your quadricepts, front of your upper leg. Roll between below your pelvis and above your knee. Avoid rolling directly over the knee.
Calf Roll – Support your weight with your hands on the floor and one calf on the roller, buttox raised off the floor. Use your upper body to roll from your heel to the top of your calf. Keep your knees bent and thighs at a 90 degree angle and slowly lower one leg towards the ground. Then return the leg to starting position and alternate legs. Maintain proper form by keeping your back straight during the exercise.
TFL Roll – Lay on your side with the roller just above the bony part of your hip joint and below the pelvis, your tensor fasciae latae. You barely need to move over this small muscle to target it.
ITB Roll – Lay on the roller with the roll under the side of your leg barely below the hip joint. Use your hands and opposite leg (crossed out in front of the leg on the roll) to support the weight of your body. Roll back and forth from just above the knee to below the hip. You will feel your Ilio-Tibial Band loosen with this exercise, making the exercise feel more comfortable.