How to foam roll
What is a foam roller?
A foam roller is a cylindrical exercise device that comes in different types of colours and contours. Muscles that are “short” or have a tightness sensation are frequently targeted, so that their extensibility can be improved. Studies support the use of foam rollers to temporarily increase range of motion without accompanying strength loss.
The art of foam rolling has steadily increased to become a popular self-management tool for everyone, particularly athletes and gym-goers. Physios use foam rollers as part of a broader treatment program with different aims to improve quality of movement and increase range of motion. Regardless of age or disability, foam rollers are suitable for everyone because they are:
- “Exercises” of low intensity with a simple set-up
- A great preclude to exercise or running
- Easily accessible and cheap
- Portable – small foam rollers can fit into sports bags
In addition to just simply foam rolling, simple movements can be added on as part of an active release exercise. This allows the muscle to contract and relax whilst having the sustained pressure from the foam roll.
How to foam roll: There is no magic number allocated for these foam roller exercises. Usually, 2-3 minutes on each major muscle group is sufficient for acquiring that “good pain” sensation.
- Place foam roller horizontally on the ground before lying on your back
- Points of contact should focus on the thoracic spine, as reduced mobility and stiffness through this area of the spine are common and can effect the shoulders and lower back
- Lifting your bottom up will allow more direct pressure on your spine as pictured
- A progression from this will be to extend your upper back, aiming to maintain the point of pressure from the foam roller
- Place foam roller horizontally on the ground and sit with the pressure of the foam roller on your buttocks
- Cross one leg and support that ankle on your other knee, which should be planted firmly on the ground
- Roll slowly back and forth, using your hands behind to assist balance
- Repeat this on the other side
- Starting in a plank position, place the foam roller under both thighs, using your hands or elbows to guide yourself down
- Lift up both feet so there is increased pressure through the quads
- Slowly roll from the front of the hip bone to just above the kneecap
- A progression from this will be to actively bend one knee whilst propped up on your elbows, and then controlling the movement as you straighten the knee. The other leg should be straight throughout, with the foot off the ground. Repeat on other side if necessary.
- Place the foam roller under the back of your thighs with your hands supported on the ground
- Gently roll from just below your glutes to the back of the knee
- Place the foam roller under your calves and with your hands behind you on the ground for balance
- Gently roll from below the back of your knee to your ankles – you may also add in ankle pumps as an active release exercise
- A progression from this would be to cross over one leg, pushing that crossed leg onto the other and applying a downwards force so that a stronger pressure is felt. Ankle pumps for the bottom leg can also be added.