What is a Foam Roller and How Do I Use One?

foam rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that can help inhibit overactive or tense muscles. I recommend it especially for areas such as the iliotibial band (IT band), gluteal muscles, and hip flexors, but can be used on other areas as well. It can often be somewhat uncomfortable when doing this technique, but the beauty about using a foam roller is that you can control the amount of pressure you're placing on the area you're working on. Some discomfort is normal and actually necessary to release the muscle tension and adhesions. You should feel some pain and/or tension relief when you stop; kind of like getting a deep tissue massage. Doing this technique allows for the muscles to regain normal function and movement. It also enhances blood flow to the muscle to allow for better healing and more mobility. This is why so many athletes use a foam roller. Not only is it easy to do, but it also gives you more control in your recovery after training hard. Foam rolling can also be used for tension from lifestyle factors, such as sitting at a desk all day.

How do I use a foam roller?

Using a foam roller is fairly simple. However, it just takes some practice to get a used to the movements associated with using one properly. You should be able to apply moderate pressure with your body weight to the area you want to work on. It should not be too painful to apply pressure. If it is, you might aggravate the area. Try rolling on the areas surrounding the painful area first to release tension. You begin by rolling slowly, about 1 inch per second. If you happen to go over an especially sore area, pause for a few seconds to allow the muscle to relax, then resume. 

Never roll over a joint or bone. Also, avoid rolling your lower back. Many people attempt this for low back pain and low back spasms, but it can aggravate any disc issue or nerve impingement you may have.

What Kind of Foam Roller Should I Buy?

Low Density Foam Roller: These are the lightest and softest you can buy. They are recommended for use in exercise classes or if you're feeling sore from a previous workout.

Medium Density Foam Roller: These are your all-purpose foam rollers. If you're just going to buy one foam roller, opt for this density. It's allows you to be more versatile when rolling out your tense muscles, whether you're sore or not.

Firm Foam Roller: These are the densest and hardest when you sit on them. These are great for a more intense myofascial release. They're especially recommend for athletes who need a quicker recovery time.

Bumpy Foam Roller: These have knobs or ridges embedded in the foam. They are ideal for digging into knots or trigger points to get a better release.


Check out the links below to learn how to properly foam roll over common painful and tight areas.