Foam Rolling

What, Why, And How To Foam Roll
By Alli McKeeFebruary 18, 2016

Video Transcription: 

Foam rolling is a type of soft tissue mobilization that's a really important aspect to keeping you healthy during your training. I am going to demonstrate exactly how you should do it. Again, I am showing you a foam roller but there are several different things you can use. You can use a stick, or a tiger tail, you can use a lacrosse ball maybe up against the wall to get some harder to reach areas.

We use to think  foam rolling would break up adhesions, kind of like self massage. What we are finding out now is that we are not actually sure why foam rolling works to relax the body and loosen you up, but we do know that it works. Some people say that it sends a signal to your brain to get the muscles to relax.  Either way we like foam rolling and we know that it works but we might not know why it works.

I am going to demonstrate a couple different things you can roll out. I am going to start with the quads. I am going to put the foam roller right in front of my legs, and I am going to get into an almost plank position on my forearms and I am going to stay nice and tight (you don't want to sag through your lower back here). I am going to keep everything nice and tight, you are just going to roll back and forth, nice and controlled. On your first foam rolling it can be quite awkward if you are not used to manipulating your body on something like this. If you don't fall off at least twice you are not doing it right. You are going to roll all up to the hip, all the way to the knees, and if you want to make it a little bit more intense you can roll one quad at a time, you can lift your quad off of here and roll just one. That decreases the surface area, so it increases the pressure. you just want to kind of spend about 30 to 60 seconds of each area. Next I am going to get my IT band so I am going right down the side of my leg here. You will know this one when you hit it, it is usually pretty painful. I am just rolling up and down, but you can also roll side to side - a lot of people like that.

Foam rolling, it depends on how stiff you are and how much soft tissue work you do, it can be kind of intense for some people.  If that's the case you might want to start out with a stick or tiger tail like I mentioned, or maybe a white foam roller that's going to be a little bit softer foam, so it is a lower density foam. I am going to roll out and get my other IT band now. You can see that I am keeping everything nice and stiff on my body. I am not letting anything sag all the way up to the hip, all the way to my knee.

Now I am going to sit on top of the roller and I am going to get my glutes. So whichever glute that you are getting, you are leaning more on that side. You are just going to start on the side, then roll towards the middle. If you want to change the angle on this you can put this foot up on your knee and get the glute that way as well. Just roll around a little bit, -- in this video I am not going to spend 30 to 60 seconds on every muscle group, I am just kind of going to demonstrate.

If you want to get your hamstrings put the foam roller right here.  This one can be a little tough depending on the length of your arms. I have really long arms so it is pretty simple for me but you can do one at a time. I am holding my body up, turning my foot different directions to get the entire hamstring.

Next you are going to get your calves. Roll along the length of those, you can even move the foam roller. There are really no rules for using the foam roller, it is just whatever feels most comfortable for you. Again the more weight that you put on there, the more intense it is going to be.

You want to get the front of your legs on the shins. Set the roller right here, you are going to get up on top. This one can be quite intense for a lot of people, so be careful. Roll. Yup, I was not joking about that, pretty intense. You are going to roll up and down a few times.

Next we are going to get the adductor.  This one can be a kind of awkward position to get into so again you might have to play around with it a little bit and find what helps you feel it. The adductor is right here going towards the groin. I generally put the foam roller in kind of a perpendicular angle to my leg. I am here, then I drape my leg over again you can see that I am perpendicular,and kind of roll in like this, you can turn your toe down towards the ground. That how you get the adductor.

Next we are going to get the lat, which is right here, running right along the side of the armpit. Again you want to make a T position with your body and the foam roller, so you want your body to be perpendicular with the foam roller.  Put your arm out, oh yeah that's the stuff right there. You can put your hand behind your head, and same thing we did with the IT band you can roll side to side.

Next I am going to show you how to get your pec, which is right here in your chest.   This can be a little bit awkward as well. This is sometimes better done with a lacrosse ball up against a wall -  you put the lacrosse ball between your chest and the wall and kind of roll around there, but I am going to try and demonstrate with the foam roller. You are here, you kind of prop your body right on top of the roller, turn your thumb down, roll right over on the chest.

Now we are going to get the back, and I saved the absolute best for last. This one feels really good for almost everybody. You are going to start this about mid-back, make sure to lift your hips up, kind of roll from your mid-back to your upper back. You can put your hands behind your head if you like. You can take your arm and kind of tug on it to pull your shoulder blade over so you can get more underneath that shoulder blade. If you are pulling your left arm over you will be rolling on the left shoulder blade. Sometimes it gets away from you, so you are going to pull it back underneath you (I have been doing this a long time and it still gets away from me!). You can just play around with it. One thing you want to be careful with is you don't want to be hyperextended or have your hips sag while you are doing this. Keep your core nice and braced, keep rolling right along the spine.

Some people like to do some thoracic spine mobilization, where they mobilize their upper back a little bit on here. If you do that put your butt on the ground, take a big deep breath through your nose, blow out hard through your mouth, brace your core, just kind of lean backwards over the roller and you will notice that I am trying not to move through here, I am only trying to move through my upper back. Once I do that I will roll down about a quarter of inch or an inch. Try to stay tight the whole time. What you don't want is this movement, because it’s not getting your thoracic it is actually getting the movement through your lumbar.

Like I said, there is no right or wrong way to foam roll. If you feel pain, especially sharp shooting pain, stop immediately. You might feel a little bit of some discomfort but it should never be painful. You can roll tons of different areas of your body - these are the most common ones and these are my favorites. It is perfect to do before your workout. You can do your breathing then do your foam rolling, then your warm up, and then do your workout. If you do it you're definitely going to stay a lot more healthy.



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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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