How to Use a Foam Roller To Target Specific Muscles
Foam rollers are a versatile asset to have as part of your fitness gear, and something that can benefit most of us in one way or another. Whether you’re looking to loosen up a tight muscle or get the blood flowing in an area that is sore after a workout a foam roller is a simple and easy way to achieve this.
We look in more detail about what rollers are, why you should consider one and some exercises you can do to alleviate common pains!
*It’s important to note that if you’re feeling significant pain then using a foam roller shouldn’t be your primary form to fix it. Always talk to a professional if you’re in significant pain, or concerned about using a foam roller*
Foam Roller Benefits
So, why should you be using a foam roller? Rolling over your muscles gives a form of ‘Self myofascial release’ that is best used to help with muscle and joint pain. It’s an effective way to relieve certain areas of pain that can be found after exercise, muscular release if you like.
As well as our muscles foam rollers work a soft tissue in our bodies – fascia. It’s a tissue found throughout our bodies and connects our muscles together to support our whole body. Like our muscles we want our fascia to be elastic and mobile, which foam rollers can help us out with!
You’ll commonly find rollers in gyms and they’re mainly used pre or post-workout, but the benefits aren’t exclusive to fitness buffs. Going about daily modern life leaves us all with aches, twinges and tight muscles from time to time. It’s tiny little niggles like this that a roller can help alleviate.
When to Use a Foam Roller
Foam rollers can be used either at the start or end of your workout and will bring different benefits depending on when you use them.
If you use one prior to your exercise, it can help activate and increase blood circulation in the muscles you target. It essentially makes your muscles more prepared for the exercise they’re about to do, so means you’re less likely to cause injury. The effects are similar to doing a dynamic warmup.
Using your foam roller after your exercise is predominantly to help recovery. If any muscles feel tight after your workout, using your roller on them can help loosen them up and release tension. Again it helps encourage blood flow to specific areas, increasing the oxygen the muscles get and ultimately reducing recovery time. Think of it as a massage that you’re in control of!
While the benefits of using a foam roller post-exercise can be felt most directly, it’s important to remember that prevention is always better than cure.
Using a foam roller shouldn’t be your be-all and end-all cure to tight muscles or other sores. You need to still go through the correct steps to make sure you’re warmed up before exercise and not relying on this method to fix common problems. With this in mind, regular foam rolling outside of your exercise routine also comes with its benefits – keeping muscles healthy, active and elastic.
Foam rollers, due to their size, should be used to target larger muscle groups. Targeting areas in the thighs, hamstrings, glutes, lats etc will yield the best results. If you’re looking for more direct and specific areas to target, then a small hard ball might do the trick better!
Which Foam Roller is Best
Which foam roller is best for you is entirely personal and subjective. There is a tonne of roller variations around differing in density, size, material and more! Some vibrate, some heat up and some collapse down for easy transport.
Looking beyond from all the bells and whistles that come with some, your roller choice should really come down to two factors – density and texture.
Density, or firmness of your roller ultimately means how deep you can push into your muscles. Softer rollers are more suitable for beginners that are just first looking into rollers as they won’t ‘hurt’ as much.
Texture is how smooth, or not, the roller is. Lots of rollers have specific grooves, bumps or spikes. Again this all varies how deep you dig into your muscles. The deeper the spikes the more intense your roller will be on your muscles, and the smoother ones will be more even.
Obviously, Swifty Fitness’ roller is not a ‘foam roller’ but can be used in the exact same way and has the same benefits. Our cork roller should be compared to mid-high density foam rollers around.
We find that the harder density crossed with the smooth texture ultimately gives the best balance of comfort and effectiveness for a wide range of people. If you’re looking for a deeper massage, then you can simply add a bit more bodyweight and get the desired effect. Equally, if you’re new to it then the smoothness means you won’t be in pain on your first go.
Foam Roller Exercises
There are hundreds of variations on foam roller exercises around that can help ease various muscular pains. Everyone will respond to exercises differently so if there’s a part of your body you’re looking to target have a search around for different exercises.
Below we outline some of the main ways you can target large key body parts and large muscle groups.
Foam Roller Exercises for Back
Foam Rolling Upper Back
Lie down with the roller positioned under your upper back, just below your shoulder blades. Have your feet flat on the floor knees bent. Place your hands either across your chest or interlocked behind your head.
Brace your core, hold for a few seconds and slowly pull your body closer to your legs so the roller goes over your back, stopping at your lower neck. Repeat.
If there are any areas that feel particularly tight slow down and softly rock the roller back and forth over it. If you feel considerable pain at any point stop, so as not to cause damage.
Foam Rolling Lower Back
Lower back pain may be one of the most common forms of back pains around, but do not foam roll your lower back.
In your lower back, your spine has no external support from your skeleton unlike the upper back so by putting pressure on it on a roller you can easily end up doing more damage!
However, in order to help alleviate issues felt in the lower back you can instead focus on the following two roller exercises -
Foam Rolling Glutes
Our glutes are the largest muscle group in our body and have a lot of effect on the support of our lower spine.
Sit on the roller, with your arms on the floor behind you. Cross one leg over the other and lean slightly in the direction of the side you’re working. With the roller at the top of your glute slowly roll your way down and back up. Repeat on the other side.
Rolling your Hip Flexors
In the plank position, place the foam roller under one leg's hip flexor with your other leg comfortably out the way giving you stability. Slowly roll up and down on the roller with your weight resting on your forearms. Slowly rock your weight from side to side to feel the full benefits. Swap to the other side and repeat.
Foam Roller Exercises Upper Body
Foam Rolling Chest
Lie on top of the roller face down with one arm extended. Place the roller just under your armpit. Your other arm can be on the ground helping balance you and control how much pressure you're putting on the roller.
Slowly rock back and forth. The movement here is minimal so go slowly and give it some time. Repeat on the other arm.
Foam Rolling Lats
Lie on your side with the roller just below your armpit – where your back meets your shoulder. Have your arm outstretched with the thumb pointing upwards. You can rest your other hand on the roller or floor for stability. Engage your core and with your legs slowly push your body so the roller is going towards your hips. When it reaches your ribs slowly roll back. Repeat on the other side.
Foam Roller Exercises for Legs
Foam Rolling Quads
In the press-up position put the roller at the top of your quads near your hip. Slowly pull your weight forward until the roller reaches the top of your knee, and roll it back.
You can either do this on the ends of the roller to focus on a single leg or do both legs at once.
Bending your knees so your feet go into the air as you’re rolling will help stretch the muscle further if you’re looking for more variation.
You can also rest your on elbows rather than hands in press-up position for less intensity.
Foam Rolling Hamstring
Sit with your legs extended in front of you with the roller under your hamstring, just above your knee. Lift your weight up with your hands and push yourself forward slowly until the roller is just under your glutes. Slowly roll back to the first positions and repeat.
You can cross one leg over the other during the exercise to add more pressure.
Foam Rolling Calves
Sitting on the floor with your legs in front of you place the foam roller under one, or both of your calves near the heel. With your hands behind you lift your body up and slowly roll across it until you reach the back of your knee. Slowly roll back and repeat.
If you’re focusing on one calf at a time you can cross the other leg over the one you’re rolling for extra pressure.