Change Your Choices

Change Your Life…Tips for a healthier you

Why Use a Foam Roller?

on May 8, 2012

Yesterday I talked about the torture device that is otherwise known as a foam roller.  Why on earth would a person use something that causes so much physical discomfort?  Now that I know the details and have been using it for a few weeks, I can honestly say it is worth it.

Are you currently suffering from knee pain? Do you feel tension in your knees or hips when you walk up or down stairs? Does your lower back feel tight, or even hurt, when you have done a lot of cardio or leg-work? Do you have joint pain when squatting down to pick up objects on the ground? If you answered yes to any of these questions- or even if you didn’t,  you should think about lengthening and loosening your leg muscles and their fibers using a foam roller.

A warning- if you have never used a foam roller it might be incredibly painful.  This is especially important if you are very heavy or not able to hold up a portion of your body weight.  You might want to work with a trainer if you are a beginner.  Remember, the more painful it is, the more you need it.  And it really does get better.  Not enjoyable, but better!

Most people (including me) use the roller after a workout, but research shows that it is also beneficial before a workout to ensure joints remain pain free during that lengthy squat series or  long run.

I found this great workout at

General Instructions As you foam roll along muscles and tissue, you will run into knots or areas where the muscle fibers have tightened up and actually started to bond together. You will know when you find them because each one will feel like a painful speed bump as you roll over it. At these points, try to sit directly on top of the tight area (still on the foam roller) and count to 20 slowly. Often, you will actually be able to feel the fibers gradually release and spread open. While on the foam roller, try your best to maintain deep, relaxing breaths while keeping the area/muscle being rolled completely relaxed (don’t flex it!).

Iliotibial Band (IT Band)
Lie on your side on the floor and place the foam roller perpendicular to your body under your lower hip. Let your upper leg either lie in front of your lower leg with your upper foot on the floor, or, to really put some weight on the lower leg and dig deep, stack your upper leg directly on top of your lower leg. Propped up and walking on your elbows, slowly start to roll the foam roller down your IT band towards your knee, remember to stop and hold for a 20 count on each knot. Roll all the way until you reach the side of your knee. Repeat on opposite leg.
Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas)
Lie face down, again with the foam roller perpendicular to your body, but with just the very end portion of the foam roller under your right hip flexors (where your right pants pocket is). Propped up on elbows and toes, you want your left leg to be hanging free off the end of the foam roller. Now, slowly roll across your right pocket-area from your belt line down to the bottom of the pocket. Do one side, then switch to your left hip flexor and repeat.
Quadriceps (Center, Outer/Lateral, Inner/Medial)
Treat this the same as your hip flexors and only do one leg at a time while the other leg hangs free off the end of the foam roller. As with the hip flexors, start face down on the roller, with one leg on the roller at the hip and the other leg free. Since your quads are such a large area of muscle, roll straight down the center of your leg. Next, roll down both the outside and inside 45-degree angle of the quad for both legs. Start at the hip and slowly roll towards the knee with each leg and angle, stopping for 20 counts on all adhesions/knots.
Shins (Anterior Tibialis)
This one is great for runners and people who experience shin splints. Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body and kneel over the roller so that both shins are on top of the roller. Sit your butt to your heels, with your knees off the floor and your hands in front of the foam roller on the floor for balance. The muscle you are trying to roll is found directly to the outside of your shin bone (tibia) on each leg. Shift your weight to the outside of your right leg and roll that muscle from knee to ankle, then shift weight to the left leg and repeat.
Inner Thigh (Adductors)
This one can be a tough area to hit, but if your adductors (inner thighs) are tight, you will definitely be able to help them open up. Propped up in a plank position on your elbows and toes, lay the foam roller at a 45-degree angle to your body. Open your right knee out (externally rotating your leg at your hip), and lay your right inner thigh on the foam roller just above the knee. Then slowly roll the foam roller from your knee up your inner thigh, as high as you can comfortably go, keeping as much weight on the roller as possible. Swap and repeat on opposite leg.
Calves (Center, Outer/Lateral, Inner/Medial)
Sit tall on the floor with the foam roller perpendicular to your legs and lying underneath the top portion of your calves. Start with the left leg by crossing the right leg across the left, resting the right leg directly on top of the left leg’s shin in order to put more weight on the leg being rolled. Slowly roll down towards your ankle. Try to roll the center portion and the inner and outer portion of each calf on each leg (like we did with the quadriceps). If you can also lift your butt off the ground using your hands to put more weight/force on the calves, you will get a better stretch. However, people’s arms often get too tired to support their bodies for a long time with this method. You can also try pointing and flexing your ankle when you find tough knots in order to help the fibers open and expand. Repeat this movement on each calf.
Hamstrings can be extremely dense and tight, and therefore a foam roller usually isn’t hard enough to help open these muscles. To solve this problem, you should work with a denser and smaller object, such as a baseball or lacrosse ball. Start in a seated position on the edge of a firm surface (this must be a solid surface like a wooden bench instead of a padded workout bench) so that your legs can hang freely off the edge without touching the ground. Then lift one thigh and place the hard ball directly under the tightest section of your hamstring. (If you are unsure which area of your hamstring is the tightest, stand up and with straight legs bend over and touch your toes. You should be able to feel which area of the hamstring tightens up the quickest and limits your ability to touch the ground. Place your fingers on this area and then place the ball directly underneath that area once you return to your seat.) Once you have the ball under the tight area, lean forward so that you have some pressure on the ball and slowly straighten your knee on the leg being stretched so that the fibers are forced to move and expand around the ball. Then slowly allow your knee to bend back to the rest position. Lengthen your knee for five reps at each of five tight points on the back of each hamstring. You can also use your hand to place additional pressure on the leg being stretched while you bend and straighten your knee. Place as much pressure on it as you can handle. To find additional tight spots, stand up and try to touch your toes again with straight legs, placing your fingers on the limiting area of your hamstrings.

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