If you have ever been in a gym, sporting goods shop or even the active aisle at Target, you’ve probably seen a foam roller. If you feel unclear about how to use one, you are not alone. While growing more mainstream, foam rollers live a mystery to numerous people and even trainers.

Foam roller workouts, also called myofascial release, is a form of massage that fitness-minded people do either before exercise to loosen up their sore muscles and their tight joints, or after a workout, to help muscle recovery.

Foam roller exercises and other self-myofascial release methods have become increasingly popular, and for a good reason. Partly that stems from a better understanding of the restorative advantages of soft tissue care, or massage. Massage can ultimately become cost-prohibitive unless you are an athlete or just have a few hundred extra bucks lying around, you probably opt infrequently for a massage as a luxury or a splurge more than a necessity.

Working yourself out on a foam roller becomes an affordable option to massage therapy. Those dense, round pieces of foam can deliver multiple advantages of therapeutic massage without the cost.

What Is Myofascial Release?

You might wonder what myofascial release means. Fascia is like plastic wrap that satisfies virtually every part of your body, comprised of collagen fibers that surround and penetrates your muscles, organs, and nerves. Fascia mostly keeps us together.

Of course, sometimes holding everything together can take a toll on your body. It’s no different for our fascia. Through overtraining, it can become sore and limited. Due to little tears that sometimes don’t heal accurately, adhesions form. If the connective tissue encompassing your muscle becomes limited, you’ll notice your muscles will also become restricted in their movement.

The myofascial release details what occurs when you apply tension to the afflicted areas to reduce adhesions and release tension, ultimately improving circulation and restoring the body back to its natural state. Foam rolling, myofascial release encompasses a broad spectrum of modalities including Rolfing, massage and the Graston technique.

5 Wellness Advantages of Foam Roller Exercises

While there are several reasons to include foam rolling into your fitness routine, let’s briefly look at five examples.

1. Increased flexibility and improved joint range of motion

For years, stretching was the standard method to decrease muscle tightness and increase flexibility before both working out or performing a sport. Recent research, however, shows foam roller exercises before an activity can lead to an increase in flexibility.

2. Better circulation

Because blood carries oxygen throughout the body, the right flow becomes critical to overall health. Among other speculations, a decrease in our circulation can lead to a whole host of problems like numbness in our limbs, impaired cognitive ability (the ability to think clearly!) and a weak immune system. Myofascial release can help improve circulation by breaking up the tight areas where blood flow may become restricted.

3. Stress reduction

Foam roller exercises can help decrease tension post-workout. One study found myofascial release can lower cortisol, your stress hormone that you want to dial down after a strenuous workout seriously.

4. Reduce exercise-related soreness

Whether you are an expert athlete or just a weekend warrior, you’ve probably experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Simply put, DOMS is the pain and stiffness in your muscles that can set in anywhere from 24–48 hours after an intense workout.

However, research finds foam rolling can substantially reduce the chances of that soreness creeping in so that you don’t spend the day after your first cycling class stuck on the couch wondering why your legs hate you so much.

5. Prevent injury

Treating an injury becomes much easier when you avoid it in the first place. Often is a constant routine of proper stretching methods coupled with foam roller exercises can counteract common injuries connected with tightness and overuse, such as iliotibial band syndrome and other common running injuries.

The iliotibial band (IT Band) runs from the top of the leg from your hip to just below your knee. It tends to be particularly susceptible to damage, especially in runners. One caveat: If not done properly, you can do more harm than good. Rolling on an already inflamed area can intensify inflammation, thereby giving you the exact opposite effect you are trying to achieve.

The Best Foam Roller Exercises

Now that you have a rather solid understanding of precisely what foam rolling is and how it can benefit you directly, you are probably questioning how to include them into your daily routine.

Ideally, the following exercises should be done for about a minute on each area to allow the muscle to relax. As you roll, take some slow, deep breaths. We tend to hold our breath when we are focussing on something, especially when something feels new to us. Remain mindful of your breathing during this process.

Hamstrings and Glutes

So many of us have remarkably tight hamstrings from sitting at our desks all day, which can cause lower-back pain. It’s why you can benefit from hamstring stretches and exercises that include the foam roller.

To roll out your hamstrings and glutes, start by sitting on the floor and placing the foam roller long ways below your legs. Use your arms to brace yourself and modify how much force you are applying to your legs. The more body weight you transfer to your arms, the easier things will be on your hamstrings.

If you feel like you need to put more pressure on your hamstrings, just shift more of your body weight to your legs and less in your arms. You will want to just roll yourself along the roller from your glutes down to just above your knees. Again, spend about a minute here and make sure you’re not holding your breath.

Quadriceps (The Front Of Your Legs)

The exterior of our legs can indeed grow sore and tight. Balance becomes crucial, so if you’re going to work on those hamstrings, turn over and give equal attention to your quadriceps.

To do this, place the foam roller underneath your legs and with your body weight on your forearms, begin to roll yourself back and forth from the top of your knees to your pelvic bone. You will want to keep your abs contracted on this one and keep your feet off the floor as you’re rolling.

Iliotibial (IT) Band

Although IT band issues are usually connected with runners, everyone can be affected by IT band problems and can result in knee and lower back pain. You need to begin working on knee strengthening exercises as well as foam roller exercises for the IT band.

To roll out your IT band, you’ll want to position yourself with the side of your leg on top of the roller. You can take some of the pressure off the IT band directly by transferring your body weight to your arms as you roll from just below your hip to the top of your knee and keeping your other foot on the ground so that your opposite leg supports you.

Upper Back

We sit down a lot, which can take its toll on our upper backs. This exercise becomes an excellent way to loosen up knots associated with phones that won’t stop ringing and rush-hour traffic that won’t move when you have a car full of crying kids and a pint of ice cream melting over all your other groceries.

Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body and lean your upper back against it. Place your hands directly behind your head, lift your hips off the floor, and gently begin to roll from the top of your shoulder blades to the middle of your back.