The Best Foam Roller Exercises and Stretches
Foam rollers have gone from being that unknown, random piece of equipment in the corner of the gym to being a highly sought after item that a lot of frequent gym goers, athletes or those in rehab also look to purchase for their own home. The reason why? Simple – they provide an incredible aid to recovery, soreness, tightness and mobility. For most people, knowing exactly what to do with one is a bit of a mystery so I wanted to share my tips on the best foam roller exercises to help you get started.
Additionally, if you are considering a purchase for home, there are many types of foam roller on the market – check out my thoughts here for the best foam roller.
For this guide to the best foam roller exercises I have enlisted the help of my other half to demonstrate the positions you should take to exercise some key body parts where I feel a foam roller can have the most impact.
I personally find that legs are the body part that gets DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the most, and therefore benefit most from thorough foam rolling. Quads are a muscle that most only do half hearted stretches for at the best of times, so the impact of rolling these can be very noticeable – and painful at first!
For this exercise, you simply hold your body firm whilst lying face down and use your forearms to rock your body forwards and back.
2. IT Band
The IT (Ilotibial) band is one of those body parts you hear about, but don’t really know much about. It is effectively a group of fibers that run own the side of your leg and are responsible for your need and hip mobility. Due to its mystery, the IT Band is generally completely untouched and therefore very tight and causes great sensations when first foam rolled – so take this as a warning!
For this exercise, you want to be on your side, using your lower forearm and upper leg to balance you. The leg of the IT Band you want to stretch should he held parallel to the floor. From here, start at the hip (as per the photo) and slowly move towards the knee. Be slow at first, as this can be a very painful move, however it is a great tension to relieve in your legs.
3. Hip Flexor
The Hip Flexor is a very important area to focus on flexibility and mobility. A lot of hip and quad issues can be resolved by removing tension from the hip flexor, and as thus this is a fantastic foam roller exercise.
Looking rather similar to the quad exercise, this one requires much less movement and rather targeted at the Hip Flexor. You want to position the point of your roller right into your hip, and then roll forwards and backwards only an inch or two in each direction. Whilst doing this, you want to be pressing your hip into roller to ensure you are putting enough pressure down.
Again, the hamstrings are an area a lot of people try to stretch, but do so half-heartedly meaning again this is one of the best foam roller exercises as it really hits a muscle you use a lot and likely don’t stretch enough.
For this one, it is rather self explanatory. You start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight, and then place the foam roller underneath the hamstrings either at the knee or at the crease of your glutes. From here, lift both feet off the ground and use your hands to shuffle yourself forwards and back until you feel the roller massaging the muscle in the right places.
For those wanting to go a bit more advanced, cross one leg over the other to add more weight into the leg on the roller which gives a deeper massage.
5. Adductor (Inner Thigh)
Now this is one you may not have seen before, and probably one you might feel more comfortable doing in private or during a quieter time at the gym!
Here, you want to be rolling the foam roller on the inside of your thigh from your knee up to your hips. To get the stretch you want to move your body laterally whilst pressing down on the raised leg. This one will feel strange but is one of the best foam roller exercises given it is again a stretch that is often overlooked.
Foam rolling your glutes is definitely one where you need to experiment until you hit the right spot. There are many parts of the glute where you won’t feel a good release of tension, but trust me you will know when you get the right part! To get the muscle stretched, you need to cross one leg onto the opposite thigh before you then sit on top of the roller. From here you then only need gentle movements on the foam roller, and you should use your arm to move your body. This really is one of the best foam roller exercises, but takes a fair bit of practice.
This is probably the best foam roller exercise for runners, and one that looks ineffective but with the right amount of pressure applied and done at the right frequency is one that can help prevent injury. There are a number of ways to roll your calves. You can target the main chunk on the back by simply rolling from a similar position to your hamstring stretches.
To do the side of your calves, you will need to move yourself to a move intricate position as shown below. I have to say this particular one does feel strange, and doesn’t always feel like it is providing much relief, so only really one I would recommend doing if you have particularly tight calves.
8. Upper Back
This is one I do during every foam rolling session – the relief you feel is always substantial and quite addictive! Simply sit back on the floor and use your feet to leverage your back across the foam roller. You can choose whether to have your bum on the floor or raise it in the air. Lifting your bum off the floor will allow more weight to go into the roller for the massage.
Moving your arms around will also help add variations to this foam roller exercise as they move the positions of your back muscles.
9. Thoratic Spine
This is more of a stretch, but definitely a good use of the foam roller. For this one, you want to roll your spine over the shape of the foam roller (placing it in the small of your back) and then hold your body tight whilst really focussing on your breathing. This is a great thing to spend time doing for long term back health.
10. Rotator Cuff
This is the final foam roller exercise I want to show, and again it is an often overlooked muscle group when it comes to stretching. The rotator cuff is a key muscle for upper body strength and one that needs attention and tension release.
This is a very similar position to the upper back exercise, but you need to hold your core tight and put effort into getting the foam roller to focus on an area between your lat and your arm pit. Like others, this is one that might cause some sensations, but it is a very effective exercise.
Thanks for reading this far in my attempt to compile the best foam roller exercises – I hope this guide proves useful. Thanks also to Emily for being such a willing volunteer!