Foam Rolling 101: How to Foam Roll Like a Pro

Want to feel like you’re getting a grade-A spa treatment from the comfort of your own home? What if it only cost $20 to get started? Great, I have your attention now. Foam rolling is a simple way to give your muscles some TLC and have you feeling like a million bucks. It’s a great stretching technique that works for everyone, regardless of what shape you are in. Here’s a look at how to foam roll and everything you need to know to get started with foam rolling.

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling, or using a hard foam tube to roll out your muscles, is a form of SMR (or self-myofascial release) stretching. Essentially, through using a foam roller, you activate your Golgi Tendon Organs which forces your muscles to go into a deep relaxing state. This process helps relieve tense muscles and burly knots in ways that traditional (or passive) stretching cannot. Foam rolling eases the stress on your muscles and helps to prevent injury. The best news is, if you are currently treating an injury, foam rolling exercises help relieve pain.

How to select a foam roller

There are several options of foam rollers for you to choose from. You can opt to use a slightly spongy foam roller or go for an all-out meat pulverizer. If you’re new to foam rolling, it’s best to start with a hard-foamed roller. Softer foams wear out quickly and don’t do a great job at SMR stretching. However, a beginner might find the more heavy-duty foam rollers (with kinked foam or plastic cores - called grid rollers) won’t serve you for traditional foam rolling

A simple, hard-foam roller should only set you back about $40 on Amazon. Our favorite is the EVA foam 3-foot rollers. They don’t collapse under you and are perfect for those who are just getting started, all the way to pro athletes.If you’re on a super-tight budget, it is possible to use a tennis ball to practice SMR, but we won’t be covering too many of those techniques in this article.

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How often to foam roll

If you’re new to the routine, we recommend only rolling three to four times a week. Once you’re initiated into the routine (two months) you are free to foam roll every day, up to three times a day. When you choose to foam roll is up to you. Foam rolling exercises are completely appropriate both before and after a workout. You can also foam roll without working out, simply carve time out of your day to make it happen. Read: this is a great thing to do while watching Netflix in the evening.

Active foam rolling muscles

Most people use foam rollers for active rolling or moving over the affected area. There are three main steps to foam rolling:

  1. Position your body over the foam roller aligning the muscle you want to roll with your foam roller

  2. Roll or apply pressure therapy (see below) and roll back and forth over the meaty area five times in each direction. Keep three points of contact with the floor (the contact with the foam roller counts as one point).

  3. Rest for several seconds and repeat this process up to two more times.

You are increasing the extensibility or pliable-ness of your muscle. This means your muscle can stretch farther and still return to its original resting length without getting over-stretched. The benefit is it allows the muscles to move more freely around joints, promoting a better range of motion.

Pressure point foam rolling

Pressure point foam rolling works similarly to active foam rolling except you place the foam roller or ball on a specific point on your muscle. Select a spot where you have the most pain or an identifiable knot (called an adhesion).

When engaging in pressure point rolling, it’s important to keep the pressure on the muscle, not on tendons or joints. Target tense points or knots by placing your foam roller or hard ball on the meaty part of your muscle. With the ball between you and the floor, lean into the ball for 30-60 seconds or until you feel the muscle release. Remember, there is no need to hold for longer than 60 seconds, doing so can cause bruising which increases inflammation and discomfort instead of relieving it.

You’re looking for your body to release the tension or allow for the autogenic inhibition to take over. The resulting SMR reflex enables your muscles to loosen and relax in super tight areas, leaving you feeling refreshed and less tight.

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Safety tips for foam rolling exercises

There are a few quick safety tips to keep in mind when you’re foam rolling.

  • Always keep three points of contact between you and the floor. Remember, the foam roller or ball counts as one point of contact

  • NEVER directly foam roll over or behind joints. Avoid directly rolling your knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, etc. Focus on the meaty muscles around your joints instead.

  • Keep your hair out of the way so it doesn’t get caught in the foam roller (ouch).

  • Don’t over-do it. Ony roll for a maximum of three times a day if you're experienced. Only roll every other day if you’re new to the exercise.

Foam rolling is an excellent way to perform SMR and get some much-needed stress release in your muscles. Foam rolling acts as a great injury recovery and preventative measure. You’ll feel like a million bucks and your muscles will thank you for foam rolling!