The Complete Foam Roller Guide (And How To Use Them)

Learn how and when to use these muscle relieving tools.

Personal trainers and fitness professionals know that any comprehensive workout plan involves a basic structure. Directives like warm up by activating the major muscles and foam rolling, incorporate push, pull, quads, hamstrings, and core, and cool down with stretching and more foam rolling are all basic parts of the workout routine plan.

While most of these workout to dos are simple enough to follow, the foam rolling bullet item might stop you in your tracks. Whether you know what foam rolling is or not, it is imperative to incorporate it into your exercise plan.

The benefits of foam rolling are instant and include:

  • less muscle soreness
  • less muscle fatigue
  • improved range of motion
  • increased flexibility

Knowing that you could go into a workout feeling strong, energetic, and with the ability to do a move with a full range of motion makes foam rolling a must have to anyone who works out.

What is a foam roller?

Foam rollers come in many different types, but they are generally in a long, cylinder shape and made out of high density foam. Most foam rollers are used while laying down on the floor, but a few come with handles that can be used while sitting or standing.

What does a foam roller do?

Foam rolling efficiently loosens up tight muscles to help reduce soreness, increase flexibility, and help you recover faster. You could think of it as a type of at home massage as the foam roller helps to relieve knots by using repeat pressure.

Its other name of myofascial release, foam rolling has the goal to stretch out the fascia, or bundles of tissues that connect the muscles and increase blood flow to those particular areas.

How do you use a foam roller?

You may have heard some of your friends talk about the foam roller in a negative way because when you first start using it, it can feel like a full body workout in itself. In fact, many people who have just started incorporating it often say how out of breath they are when they finish rolling out their trouble spots.

Even if it is tough in the beginning, stick with it. Your muscles are going to feel the difference and you are going to love the limited soreness and renewed energy you feel when you are back in the gym the next day.

Here are a few ways you can use your foam roller effectively:

Warm Up and Cool Down

Bringing the foam roller into your warm up and cool down routine can seriously improve your range of motion and flexibility for your actual workout, while also helping to reduce muscle soreness and tightness after your workout.

Certainly pay attention the muscles that personally give you the most trouble, but a few to start with include:

  • Thighs (both your quads and hamstrings)
  • Calves
  • Upper Back (between your shoulder blades)
  • Glutes
  • Feet
  • Neck

Whichever muscles you choose to foam roll, you should spend about 30 seconds on each area. This is about 10 rolls total, which gives you an idea of the pace you should be rolling. Remember that you want to go slower to give your muscles time to release, which in turn increases the blood flow to that area.

Sore Muscles

If you have any soreness, even minimal, it is the perfect time to use your foam roller. Roll slowly back and forth over the sore area. You need to be sure that you are applying enough pressure to work out the knot, which may be uncomfortable and slightly painful during the first few rolls, but will feel better as the muscles loosen up. You might not feel better instantly, but give it a few hours, or until the next day, to see the magic.


Even if you are not sore in any particular area, you can still do a gentle foam roll of your usually tough spots to help the muscles relax and prepare for the next hard set of workouts.

To Create Instability

Rather than just leaving your foam roller as a single use piece of gym equipment, you can add it to your workout routine. Foam rollers can help create instability for certain core moves, balance exercises, or strength moves. For instance:

  • Put your hands on it to do a push up
  • Lay on it longways (aligned with your spine) during certain types of crunches
  • Place both hands on it during tricep dips
  • Strengthen your hamstrings. Place it under your feet while laying down and roll it out and back.

What should you not do with a foam roller?

Sure a foam roller seems like a magic tool, and often times it is, there are a few considerations you want to be cautious of as you delve into the world of rolling.

  • Do not roll over joints. Avoid your knees, ankles, elbows, and shoulders.
  • Do not roll in ways you are not ready for. Some foam rolling moves take serious balance and core strength. If you cannot quite get into the positions and hold them, try the beginner version, or opt for a foam rolling stick.
  • Do not roll your lower back. Your body naturally wants to protect the spine and a foam roller is going to make direct contact. Use a smaller roller like a tennis ball to soothe any tight muscles in this region.
  • Do not skip a nutritious diet. Foam rolling has many benefits, but like anything when it comes to your health and fitness, it is not a quick fix. You still have to focus on eating a nutritious diet with a majority of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Make sure you drink plenty of water as well!

Where can you buy a foam roller?

While getting a foam roller might seem like just another piece of gym equipment you will never use that will sit in the corner of your house and collect dust (or dirty laundry), you should make an effort to find one you can easily use and work to make it a habit within your workout routine to use.

There are many different kinds, but choose the one that will work best for you and your muscle recovery needs. Many foam rollers are extremely reasonably priced, so it is an easy decision to add them to your workout equipment.

Places where you can definitely find a foam roller to fit your needs:

  • Amazon
  • Athletic store
  • Running store
  • Target
  • Walmart

With all the benefits that foam rolling offers you, you should want to start incorporating it into your workout routine. Even if you just try it consistently for a few weeks to see if you notice any differences (which you will), you will thank yourself.

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