Foam Rolling For Dummies

Foam rollers are the tube-shaped torture device guaranteed to make you scream, “hurts so good!”

Self-myofascial release, better known as self-massage or foam rolling, is a crucial component of any good recovery routine. Like an old-fashioned rubdown, foam rolling breaks up fibrous tissue and helps to increase circulation, easing soreness from training. Research shows that self-massage can significantly reduce stiffness and soreness.

We all know we need to loosen up those muscles, it’s easy to forget when you’re rushing to the office post-run or when the workout leaves you flattened on the couch. How can you take the time to stretch when you’re too tired to even bring the recovery shake to your mouth?

When time and energy are rare, we often can’t prioritize the little things that make us better athletes. And even if you can squeeze it in, you might not know where to start. How long should we roll for? What areas are the most important when running low on time? Where we even start?

If you want to get the most out of your exercise program, you need to do mobility work with a foam roller (or torture tool of choice). It’s non-optional. Here’s a no excuse foam rolling routine for us dummies too pressed for time to keep from being sore. It’s quick and covers the four key areas you need to target when you’re afraid you’ll be sore for days but only have ten minutes to loosen up.


Why it’s important: According to world-renowned running coach and two-time trail running national champion David Roche, the back is a “power center” for running and exercise. While it can provide a lot of power during your workout, it also holds an immense amount of tension that needs to be released to exercise effectively.

How to do it: Lie faceup with foam roller horizontally under the upper back and below your shoulder blades, knees bent, feet flat, and hands behind head. Use your core to press into feet, lifting hips slightly and slowly roll from upper to middle back. When you find a tender spot, hold, release and repeat.


Why it’s important: For Roche, the key to healthy feet are healthy calves.

“Something goes wrong in the calf, and the Achilles might act up or even the plantar,” Roche says. “Rolling them keeps the entire lower leg functioning without the pesky, months-long niggles that can form if your calves are too tight.”

How to do it: Sit with the roller under your calf. Place the palms of your hands on the ground (fingers pointing toward your body). Keep your left foot off the ground by stacking your feet on top of each other, the left foot on the toe of right foot. While supporting your body weight with your hands, roll up and down along your calf. Repeat on both sides.


Why it’s important: There are a lot of reasons to keep the quads mobile, but avoiding a pesky case of IT-Band Syndrome seems to be the most motivating.

“A tight IT band can ruin a training plan for months, and it’s easily preventable with a few minutes of daily quad rolling,” Roche says. “I honestly think they should teach quad and IT band rolling in elementary schools, so kids have the tools they need to be athletes as adults!”

How to Do it: Lie face down with the foam roller under your right thigh. Put your forearms on the ground. Keep your left foot off the ground by stacking your feet on top of each other, the toe of left foot on the heel of the right foot. Supporting your body weight with your forearms, roll up and down from the bottom of the hip to the top of your knee, while moving thigh side to side to target both the inside and outside of quad muscles. Repeat on both sides.


Why it’s important: Just like the back muscles, the glutes are powerful muscles. Keeping them loose is essential in maintaining a healthy fitness routine. Roche says, “rolling the low back and glutes helps prevent something from going wrong in the SI joint, piriformis, and even the hips, letting you continue to get that butt power on the trails or in the gym.”

How to do it: Lie on your right side with the foam roller just below your hip bone. Extend your right leg straight out, and bend your left leg and place it in front of your right leg. Place your right hand on the floor for balance, and roll along your outer thigh from the below your hip bone to just above your knee. Repeat on the other side.

In my eyes, anything sturdy enough to hold my body weight will do the trick—even a hard water bottle or a container of protein powder works like a charm! But a good foam roller is tough enough to address the problems spots and effective enough to keep coming back to a cringe-worthy rolling routine.

Focus on each target area for at least one minute, moving slowly through the motions until eventually, you feel sweet release. If you’re a first-timer, know that there is productivity in the pain—the more you practice, the less it will hurt as your body adapts to the new form of recovery.