Get Your Roll On – What, Why, And How You Should Foam Roll

By Molly Galbraith

What Is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is a really common form of soft tissue work that’s cheap, simple, and effective, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Strategically rolling your body over a cylindrical piece of foam to create a desired effect.

There are numerous tools that you can use to do this type of work, such as a Tiger Tail or a lacrosse ball, but we find that the foam roller is a good place to start for most people.

Why Should I Foam Roll?

What is that desired effect mentioned above? To be honest, people use it for all different reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Muscle relaxation
  • Increased blood flow to the area you’re rolling
  • Transitioning mentally from the rest of your day, to “work out mode”
  • It just plain feels good (for most people!)

foamroll-molly-pro-450x337A couple of important things to note:

1. If you or one of your clients are brand new to foam rolling, start with something a little less “invasive” than a traditional, firm foam roller.

A Tiger Tail or a Stick might be a good idea, as you can control the pressure a lot better, or you can order a white foam roller, which is traditionally less dense and much softer than a black one.

2. If you or one of your clients are quite a bit overweight, you also might want to consider making the modifications listed above, as the more you weigh, the more pressure you’ll put on any given area, and the more “invasive” the foam rolling is to the body.

3. If you want to pinpoint an area, or roll out a “hard-to-roll” area like your pecs/chest or around your scapulae/shoulder blades, you might want to consider a tool like a lacrosse ball.

4. If you’re very stressed out or tense, your body might not “accept” the foam rolling very well.

It’s a good idea to spend two to three minutes (or more) doing some deep belly breathing and trying to relax your mind and body before you start rolling. If you know yourself, and know that you’ll never do this, at least take five to 10 deep breaths in and out through your nose. Shoot for a three to five second inhale, and an eight to 10 second exhale.

How Do I Foam Roll?

That’s a good question, and we show you exactly how we like to do it in this video.

Keep in mind that the more comfortable you get with foam rolling, the more likely you are to develop your own “foam rolling routine,” and that’s great! One of the most important (and least discussed) aspects of foam rolling is that you enjoy it, so you’re more likely to be consistent with it.

You’re welcome to foam roll your entire body if you have the time and desire, but if you don’t, choose the three to five areas of your body that feel more stiff, or that you’re trying to relax, and roll those.

For most people, here’s a good place to start:

  • Quads (front of the thighs)
  • Glutes (your booty)
  • Adductors (inner thigh/groin)
  • Pecs (chest)
  • Lats (underneath your armpit, along the side of your body)

Foam Rolling Tips:

1. The first rule(s) of foam rolling – it will feel awkward at first and you will fall off at some point! And that’s totally OK, and quite normal. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person who is new to foam rolling, not roll off at least twice. It’s kind of like a rite of passage. Embrace it.

foamroll-molly-yes-no-450x3882. Pay attention to your body. It’s critical that you use some body awareness when starting to foam roll.

For example, foam rolling your quads is essentially doing a Plank, and you wouldn’t let your back sag in a Plank, right? So why do it when you roll?

You don’t have to be super rigid and tensing your muscles hard, of course (the goal is to relax, remember?) but being aware of your body position is quite important.

3. Take your time. You should use long, slow strokes, and spend a minimum of 30-60 seconds on each area (I’m going a bit faster for the sake of time on the video). You could roll longer of course, but if you’re being realistic, most people won’t do it if they have to spend more time than that.

4. Roll in multiple directions. As demonstrated in the video, depending on the muscle, you can not only roll up and down, but side to side as well. Play around with it and see what feels good to you.

What If It’s Painful?

We get this question a lot – “Is foam rolling supposed to hurt?”

This is a toughie – there are multiple schools of thought on this, with very different opinions. On one end of the spectrum, there is the thought that, if it hurts, you may be on a trigger point, and you should stay on that area for a while until the pain dissipates, and then move on to another area. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the camp that says, “STOP! Why would you want to put yourself in pain before you begin your workout?”

Because pain is such a tricky and misunderstood subject, keeping yourself out of pain as much as possible is a good thing. In addition, it’s likely that if you feel pain, your entire body is going to tense up, thus rendering the foam rolling relatively pointless.

Another things to consider (I snagged this gem from Joy Victoria at The Women’s Fitness Summit) is – what does pain mean to each person?

Because it means different things to different people, and there is a spectrum of pain, from mild discomfort to intense and unbearable, her barometer for measuring pain with her clients while foam rolling is, “Can you relax into it?” and I love this.

If you can “relax” into the pain, then it’s likely just mild discomfort and you can keep rolling.

Note: if you ever feel intense, sharp, shooting pain, stop immediately. You may have hit a nerve, and you do not want to stay on that area.

When Should I Foam Roll?

For most people, foam rolling before their workout (after a little breathing, to help them relax) is perfect. Other people enjoy foam rolling post-workout as well, and that’s fine, too. And finally, foam rolling on off days is perfect, as it can increase blood flow to the area and may help bolster recovery.

In my opinion, the best time to foam roll is...whenever you will do it consistently. Consistency is key for seeing long-term results.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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