How to Foam Roll

"The practical significance of using a foam roller to perform soft tissue work is that by holding pressure on tender areas of tissue (trigger points, etc.) for a sustained period of time, trigger point activity can be diminished. This will then allow the application of a stretching or lengthening technique such as static stretching to increase the muscles extensibility, reset the muscles length and provide optimal length-tension relationships. With optimal length-tension relationships, subsequent use of corrective activation and integrating strengthening exercises will ensure an increase in muscular coordination, endurance strength and optimal force couple relationships (muscles working together) will produce proper joint mechanics (arthrokinematics). Collectively, these processes enable the human movement system to re-establish neuromuscular efficiency." - N.A.S.M

Getting started: 
Slowly roll the targeted area up and down, rotating where necessary to identify tender areas for each specific muscle or muscle groups. From here you have a few options, listed below are two of them.

  1. When rolling pause on a tender spot until the discomfort is reduced by at least 75%. This can take anywhere from 30 to 120+ seconds and you may need to take a short rest in between but repeat several times to give it the best chance to be alleviated. At times you may work on 1 area or spot for several minutes.
  2. Roll the foam roller up and down the full length of the muscle tissue. Being sure to do this slowly and repeating many times or until tenderness subsides 75%. We recommend to start with 6-8 complete rolls for each area, each rep lasting  30 seconds. 

You can spend several minutes on one particular area and up to 60 minutes in total session time foam rolling. When you are first introduced to foam rolling, take your time to learn the right techniques, how to relax into the pressure from the foam roller, adjusting your position to be more direct and to gain the strength for self support while rolling. 

When to Foam Roll (SMR):

  • The beginning of a workout, followed immediately with active stretching, activation techniques and movement prep.
  • At the end of a workout, to aid in recovery, followed by stretching.
  • Everyday to combat the stresses of sitting more then the human body can tolerate.
  • As often as needed.

Things to remember when foam rolling:

  1. Be relaxed, keep your core engaged. You will be in difficult positions at times where your upper-body will be highly involved in stabilizing you. If you feel fatigue or can’t hold your position, move on to the next area, then go back. Over time you will develop the necessary strength and technique for foam rolling,  keep practicing.
  2. Keep more of your weight on the foam roller to be more effective. 
  3. Don’t let your low back arch or midsection sag when your rolling your quads, IT band, adductors, etc. Keep your abdominals drawn in as you would for any exercise.
  4. Be sure to breathe throughout the foam rolling session. There will be a tendency to hold your breathe, especially when areas are more painful then others. 
  5. Use a a variety of foam rollers & trigger point therapy options. You may want to start with a lower density foam rolling on a tender area and then progress to a higher density foam roller. You can also use a lower density foam roller to aid in recovery from soreness after a hard training day. This is to ensure that you do not over stress the muscle tissue or fascia. A rumble roller, TP Ball Massage Ball, etc allow you to get deeper into areas a conventional foam roller can’t.
  6. When finished foam rolling, be sure to perform specific stretches that will aid in alleviating the trigger points, imbalances, etc, and assist in bringing back the proper length-tension relationship of those tissues.
  7. If you foam roll before a training session, be sure to follow it immediately with stretching and movement prep. This is important because when foam rolling or using static stretching, you ask the bodies tissues to relax and release tension, but they stay relaxed until turned on or activated again and this can be done through movement prep and a proper warmup.
  8. Foam rolling sensitivity can be used as a measurement for the health and quality of your tissue and human movement system. The more sensitive, the greater the possibility for an injury or under performance, which in turn leads to a greater need for the proper corrective exercise and  strength & conditioning program to be incorporated into your training.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. 

Related Article - "About Foam Rolling" by Joe Azze