Top 5 Ways to Effectively Use a Foam Roller

Anyone learning how to use a foam roller needs to know that these bad boys hurt *so* good.

When you’re doing foam roller exercises, you can’t quit. You’re feeling the pain and yet know within yourself that this agony will only last for a few minutes. The soothing relief you will feel afterward, though, will make you ecstatic for the rest of the day.

Foam rollers are exercise devices used for massage and fitness. You can find them in many shapes, sizes, and textures, although they are usually long and cylindrical. They are also used for self-myofascial release, the process of relaxing contracted muscles and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles.

The gyms that are following fitness trends (Pilates jumpboard classes, we’re looking at you) have already started using roller foams. People who enjoy stability ball workouts and other exercises are also good candidates for foam roller exercises.

Keep on reading to discover why foam rollers are having such a big moment — and how to use a foam roller the right way.

How Does a Foam Roller Work?

Foam rollers are designed to massage the ‘knots’ in muscles. These trigger points tense the muscles and create points of weakness in the tissue. These muscle contractions can lead to discomfort and injury if not treated accordingly.

Foam rolling massages those points, increases blood flow in the muscles, and helps create better mobility. You can also incorporate a short rolling session within your Pilates reformer stretches. It will help you stretch your muscles and ease the pain after a demanding workout.

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What Type of Foam Roller Do You Need?

how to use a foam roller foam roller exercises types

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One quick glance at the foam roller aisle or through the gym equipment can show you how many foam roller types there are.

Foam rollers differ in density, surface texture, shape, and size. Know what is available to help you find the right option.

Density

The low-density foam rollers are the lightest and the softest on the market. You can use them when you are starting out foam roller exercises and want to get used to them. You can also use them after an intense workout like kettlebell exercises to stretch your muscles.

Denser foam rollers are best for those looking to perform a myofascial release and for athletes. Don’t overdo it, though. If you are clenching due to the pain of a firm foam roller, you’ll have the opposite effect of what you want.

Surface Texture

Smooth foam rollers apply the same pressure across the roll. They are perfect for those starting out.

Textured rollers, on the other hand, have wavy ridges and bumpy knobs that dig in the muscles. They help release the pain points quicker but are harder to endure. They are effective to concentrate intensity on areas with more than one trigger point.

Size

Long rollers are the ones that you will see the most. Their length allows them to work adequately on different body parts, especially the back.

Shorter rollers target small areas and are easily storable if you are taking your own travel gear to the gym.

Still not sure which one to get? Read our foam roller top picks and buyer’s guide for more help.

Now that you know how to use a foam roller and which types to choose, grab your yoga mat and yoga pants. Here is how to use a foam roller as part of your exercise.

N.B: Always consult your physician before engaging in exercises if you have a medical condition, are unsure about your physical well-being, or are a male above 45 years old or female above 50 years old. There are no size-fits-all exercises, so be aware of your body’s limits and condition. Happy fitness session! 

5.) Neck

You might wake up with your neck feeling a bit of discomfort after sleeping in a weird position. Using a foam roller can help you alleviate the pain and stretch your muscles gently.

How to Do Neck Exercises With a Foam Roller

  1. Place your foam roller at the top of your mat. The two should be perpendicular.
  2. Lay on your back and place your neck on top of the foam roller.
  3. Start turning your head slowly left to right. Don’t turn your head completely; it will be too hard with the foam roller. Instead, shake your head only about 20° on each side.
  4. Repeat.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Repeat for about 2 minutes.

Be careful, though. The neck is a sensitive area. Be gentle, do your exercises slowly, and avoid any sudden moves.

If you don’t have a yoga mat you love to help with this exercise, our yoga mat guide can help.

4.) Upper Back

Sitting too long is not doing our bodies any good, and we’re doing a lot of it. If you have to be on a chair for a long time due to your work or school and have a tendency to slump your back, you might have upper back pains.

Using a foam roller can help relax the area and improve your posture in the most gentle way possible. Here is how.

How to Do Upper Back Exercises With a Foam Roller

  1. Place your foam roller at the top of your mat. The two should be perpendicular.
  2. Lay on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet hip-distance apart.
  3. Place your shoulders on top of the foam roller.
  4. Put your hands behind your head and point your elbows forward. They should be pointing toward the ceiling.
  5. Raise your back from the ground until you form a vertical line with your shoulders, hips, and thighs.
  6. Start rolling up and down for about 1 minute to loosen up your muscles.
  7. Drop your hips down until they touch mat.
  8. Place the foam roller right underneath your shoulders. Keep your elbows facing forward.
  9. Bend your head and upper body over the foam roller until your head is a few centimeters close to the mat.
  10. Bring your head back into position.
  11. Repeat. You might find yourself rolling the foam roller with your upper back at the beginning (and thus moving your feet along with it a little bit). This is fine because it will help you find your balance.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Repeat the exercise 10 times.

3.) Legs

Whether you’re getting started running or are an established athlete, leg foam roller exercises are perfect recovery workouts. Here is an exercise to roll the pain away.

How to Do Leg Exercises with a Foam Roller

  1. Place your foam roller in the middle of your mat. The two should be perpendicular.
  2. Sit on the mat and place your calves on the foam roller. Plant your hands flat on either side of your hips, your fingers should be pointing behind you.
  3. Raise your waist until your hips and legs are vertical.
  4. Start rolling your calves up and down. Your hands shouldn’t move.
  5. Repeat.

If it is hard for you, you can do the same exercise with one lug. Instead of placing your foam roller in the middle of the mat, place it so that its far end comes right beneath one of your calves only, leaving the other leg placed directly onto the mat. Bend that leg, plant your foot on the mat, and use it as support to roll your other calf.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Repeat the exercise 10 times.

2.) Hip Flexors

From yoga postures for hips to Pilates hip exercises, many people want to release tension from their hip flexors. Hip flexors are the collective muscles that are being engaged when you lift your knee towards your body. You could feel some pain in that area if the muscles are tight or strained. They need to be gently worked on in order to relax them. Here is an exercise to do so.

How to Do Hip Flexors Exercises with a Foam Roller

  1. Place your foam roller in the middle of your mat. The two should be perpendicular.
  2. Face the mat in a push-up position. Your hands should lay flat on the mat. You can either raise your elbows from the mat or pin them down on the ground. The foam roller should be under hips.
  3. Have one leg stretched straight over the foam roller while the other one is flexed toward the inside of your body and slightly moved to the side of the mat.
  4. Roll your body up and down the foam roller while gently massaging your hips.
  5. Repeat and switch legs.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Do 8 reps on each side.

1.) Glutes

Many are on the pursuit of the perfectly toned butt, and we would be lying if we said that we aren’t either. From lower body workouts to resistance band exercises, our editors have tried it all and want even more. Enter foam roller glutes exercises. These exercises release the tension from the area and help them recover quicker after a workout.

How to Do Glutes Exercises with a Foam Roller

  1. Place your foam roller in the middle of your mat. The two should be perpendicular.
  2. Sit on the roller with your hands laying flat on the mat.
  3. Bend one leg and plant its foot on the ground.
  4. Cross the other leg on top of it with the calf on the hamstring.
  5. Roll slowly up and down by putting pressure on the glutes.
  6. Use one of your hands to keep your balance by securing your bent leg in place.
  7. Repeat and switch legs.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Do 5 to 10 reps on each side.

Mistakes to Avoid When Foam Rolling (And How to Fix Them)

These exercises should get you started in your foam roller fitness journey and complete your workouts. However, always be mindful of your body and don’t stretch it past its limits. To help you get the best out of your workout, here are some mistakes to avoid.

1. Targeting the Injured Area Directly

Sometimes, rubbing an injured area could create more inflammation rather than fixing it. The pain you’re feeling doesn’t always originate from that same spot. Muscles don’t work that way. You could be feeling some pain on your lower back while it is, in fact, your shoulder that is tense. Muscles work in groups, and it can be hard for the untrained person to know where the problem is.

Instead, like in a massage, slowly start from the pain point and go all around the connecting muscles in the area. Go back to the pain point and gently roll it, and repeat.

2. Doing Your Exercises Too Quickly

We know that foam rolling hurts. You will still need to do it slowly.

Foam rolling quickly might be good in some cases, but more often than not, you will need to be really thorough and slow with it. This is how you will get your fascia to relax.

3. Working on One Area for a Long Time

While we want you to take your time when foam rolling, you should also take it easy on your body. Don’t do more than 10 reps on one area, and rest between exercises.

If you are feeling that you need more exercises to release the pain from an area, get back to it a few hours later.

Remember: foam roller exercises generally hurt but should be bearable. If you are feeling excruciating pain, stop immediately and let your body rest.

For more exercises designed to stretch and ease your body’s tense muscles, discover our top Pilates warm-up exercises in our next article.

Top 5 Ways to Effectively Use a Foam Roller

Top 5 Pilates Exercises for a Great Warm-Up Top 5 Pilates Exercises for a Great Warm-Up