The Complete Guide to Foam Rolling


The Complete Guide to Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is worth it, but not for the reasons you might think. Here’s why

Most gym-goers will be familiar with the humble foam roller – the little plastic log that can cause so much pain. But what does it actually do and is it worth spending 10 minutes of the precious hour you’ve set aside to train that day?

Foam rolling has been studied extensively and in some studies has been shown to accelerate recovery and to increase joint range of motion. If you’ve just grit your teeth through a particularly tough session, then foam rolling can help as part of a warm-down protocol that includes rolling and time spent walking or cycling. Or, to increase range of motion – in legs made tight by sitting at a desk all day – rolling is most beneficial when deployed prior to exercise, for around 60 seconds per body part at an intensity of 2-5 out of 10. There really is no need for pain to get those gains to ROM.

But how does it work? Well, that’s not clear but it seems that it is not “breaking” anything down (muscle, fascia, etc), as it has been shown that waaaaay more force has to be applied to tissue for this to happen than can be caused by rolling. Again, stop doing it until you wince! It’s not helping.

Instead, it seems that it may be some kind of “neuro-modulation”, which means that it changes how the nervous system perceives tightness and pain. So, rather than imagining that you’re rolling out kinks in you your muscles, think of it instead as a means of

more like you are preparing your system for work.

Any body part can be rolled and a good place to start is the places that feel the tightest. The calves, IT band and quads are classic spots. As intensity doesn’t need to be very high, pick your roller accordingly – it doesn’t always have to be the one with the scariest looking nobbly bits – and if you have areas more sensitive than others, use different rollers for different body parts. A soft roller is sometimes not enough for the legs but too much for necks and shoulders.


In short:

  • Find the “tightest” spot and spend 60 seconds here.
  • For recovery, include some light walking and/or cycling.
  • No need for pain – 2-5/10 intensity is enough.


The Calf Roll

Start by sitting on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Lift one foot and  place the roller underneath your ankle. Plant your hands either side of you bum and take your weight. Now slowly use your hands to push your weight forward and let the roller roll up to your knee and then reverse. Decrease the intensity by taking more of the weight with your hands and gradually go back and forth to find problem spots. Focus on those for 60 seconds and then switch legs.


The IT Band Roll

Set up lying on your right hand side and place both hands on the floor to the right of you to start supporting your weight. Place the roller underneath your lower right leg so it sits just above the knee and bring your top left leg back and plant your foot by the roller for stability. Use your hands to shift your weight forward and roll the roller up the outside of your right leg up to your hip and back again. Do this for 60 seconds and swap sides.


The Quad Roll

Place your foam roller on the floor and lie on your stomach with the front of one thigh over the foam roller and the other leg on the floor for support. Roll the entire front of the thigh from the top of the hip to the top of the knee cap in an up and down motion. Maintain abs tight and proper low back posture during the exercise.

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