HOW and WHY to foam roll (guest post).

I needed this post. 99% of my friends in real life need this post.  I like to assume we all need this post as, even if we’re rolling regularly now, reviews and reminding about proper form can never hurt…


There are three major components to a healthy fitness regime: A good diet, strength training and cardiovascular activity.

Well, actually—there are four. Stretching is extremely important as it promotes long and limber muscles that move as they should. And it also helps you avoid being sore. But stretches aren’t always done with a foot on a bench and a bend forward. Stretching can be dynamic. It can be static. And it can be done on a foam roller.


While the actual motion is quite simple, there are a few very important things that you need to know about foam rolling like a pro.

1) Foam rolling is a form of self-massage.

As such, it can hurt. In a good way, of course. You never want to feel sharp pains, but you will feel knots in your muscles coming undone. The weight of your body on the foam roller puts pressure on the roller itself, which is then transferred back to your muscles. Think rolling pin on biscuit dough. Your muscles ultimately end up nice and smooth…well, stretched and loosened.

2) There are different kinds of foam rollers.

Some are softer than others, as is the case with the white one above, which means it won’t hurt as much. But the black one, it’s harder, which means it’ll provide a deeper roll. If you’re a newbie, start with a soft roller. And make sure it’s long. Shorter foam rollers and half rollers aren’t really necessary, but can be used to create more specific rolling regimes.

3) Foam rolling isn’t graceful.

Don’t worry about how you look. You will look silly, but when all is said and done, you’ll feel like a million bucks. Focus on how the foam roller makes your muscles feel, not how you feel, and you’ll get a good roll every time. In other words, don’t hesitate to pretzel up.

4) Foam roll after your workout.

Even though it’s a form of stretching, it feels the best after a workout when your muscles are the tightest. Always start your workout with dynamic stretching.

5) Watch out for that IT band.

IT band? Illiotibial band…it runs from the outside of your hip down to your ankle. And it really, really hurts when you roll it. But do not be discouraged by that. Just be warned…and be routine with how often you roll it. Especially if you are a runner. The IT band tightens up quickly, which can often lead to knee problems. The more you keep it loose, the better.

6) Specific rolls exist, but experimentation is just as good.

You can Google “foam roller stretches” and get a TON of options, but it’s just a matter of moving forward and backward on the roller. For example, to roll out the aforementioned IT band, start with your hips stacked on top of the roller. Place your hands on the floor and your top foot on the ground. Roll the outside of your bottom leg from the hip down to just above the knee. Back and forth, back and forth until you feel the IT band releasing tension.

7) Tension is released when the muscle seems to soften.

Many describe this as an elimination of the “pain” caused by rolling.  You be the judge with your own muscles.

8) The foam roller can be used for a number of abdominal exercises as well.

While you never want to roll out your abs (because that would put too much pressure on your organs), you can use the roller to strengthen your abs. Try doing a plank with your hands on the roller. Or placing the roller underneath your shins and tucking your knees into your chest. Get creative…that’s when some of the best exercises are invented. In fact, you can build an entire workout around the foam roller.

But, as always, be careful. Stop rolling if you feel any sharp pains, and take care around bones that aren’t so protected by muscle and/or fat. Like the kneecap area, or the base of your neck. Perhaps even your tailbone.

Seek out a foam rolling class for further instruction. Or ask a personal trainer for a demonstration. And if it ultimately does not sound like your ideal way to stretch, please still find your own way to keep those hard-earned muscles long and lean.

Stretching is oh, so important.

Happy rolling!

Tara Sabo is a Certified Personal Trainer via the National Association for Therapeutic Exercise. She writes A Daily Dose of Fit, where she provides tips that support the fit life (and the occasional glimpse into HER life). Follow Tara on TwitterFacebook and Pinterest to stay up-to-date.


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  1. says

    Got curious about foam rolls. It is actually a great post to remind fellow workout enthusiasts not to underestimate stretching.

  2. says

    Great post and timing for it. Just had a conversation with a friend who’s a trainer and he mentioned how foam rolling can really help with postponing the aging effects that our muscles and joints go through over time.

  3. says

    I feel like I’m the only person who hasn’t tried foam rolling!

    Thanks for the info on this! I may have to add one to my bday wish list 😉

  4. says

    Oh, that IT Band roll! The first time I did it, they heard me scream across the gym! I believe in foam rolling daily – usually in the evening just before I go to bed.

    And both before and after a strenuous strength training workout.

    I use a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, 2 lacrosse balls taped together to get right along the spine. It tortures so good, but leads to so much improved mobility.

  5. says

    Foam rolling is a life saver. Seriously. If I didn’t foam roll along with my high intensity interval workouts, I’d be one tight mess. Since discovering it, my life has gotten a whole lot better (and less painful)!

    Lacrosse balls are also a great tool for working out those really hard to get spots!

  6. says

    The universe is trying to tell me something – first this post, and then I get an email saying we are having a foam rolling seminar before our group run tomorrow…I’m listening – and I’ll foam roll!!! :) :) :)

    • says

      I consider myself a pretty graceful person, but I throw all of that out the window when I teach foam rolling…and I tell my students to do the same. The more you try to look pretty on a roller, the less of a roll you get. It’s just not possible. Because even if you do keep it cool, the resulting grimace of a face throws all that out the window :-)

  7. says

    I have literally cried when rolling my IT band at the gym. And when people look at me funny, I want to tell them “You get down here and do it and then we’ll see if it’s funny!”

  8. says

    I use the RumbleRoller & I also love my Body Wrench. I use both! :-) The half rollers are great for travel so you can pack in the suitcase & have – I know for me, that is important – if I ever get to travel again! 😉 I stretch & roll & Body Wrench all the time & with age, so important!!! Great post!

  9. says

    OH how I needed this post! I just got a foam roller and haven’t actually used it yet. Now, what this post needs is an image for us pin-happy types 😉

  10. says

    I was just saying to someone that I have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller. I have the super spikey mean one. We have a date every night and then I tell him I never want to see him again. Then, the next night I can’t resist… he must be doing something right.

  11. says

    I’ve done a couple of pilates (mat) classes where we’ve used the roller the entire time. It’s amazing how much harder everything is when lying on the roller (with it the length of your spine).


  12. Tommy Phea says

    I live a healthy lifestyle exercising everyday and following a healthy diet. I never consider stretching a major part of my fitness regime because I never liked doing it. I thought you didn’t get any real benefits from it but this post has changed my mind. I’m going to try to incorporate stretching into my fitness routine.