In my Learn to Lift for women class, one of the concepts we cover right off the bat is foam rolling.
Foam rolling is an excellent way to break up any knots you may have in your muscles, and it also helps transition your body from things like waking up and working to working out.
I typically foam roll as part of my warmup routine prior to strength training to get my body moving and into work out mode.
The thing is, whenever I ask my ladies if they are familiar with foam rolling, most admit that they kiiiind of know what it is, but that nobody has ever shown them how to do it properly before!
Foam Rolling: What You Need to Know
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which is just a fancy shmancy term for self-massage or soft tissue work. It can help release muscle tightness, prevent injury, improve performance in the gym, increase blood flow to the areas you roll (hence why I foam roll before my lifts), and it can be a great way to get movement in on a recovery day.
Some people find it relaxing and say it feels good… some may disagree and say it hurts so good! 😉
I typically recommend that people pick between 3-5 areas that feel stiff or tense, and begin there. Below I’ve outlined my exact foam rolling routine and how to do it so you have a place to start. No need to foam roll all day… spend 30-60 seconds on each area, then move on.
Place the foam roller under the middle of your back. With your feet flat on the floor and your hips lifted, slowly roll up and down along each side of the spine. Do not place directly on your spine!! Think about pulling your shoulder blades apart. I find it helps to cross my arms over my chest to help really allow the foam roller to hit the tightest areas.
Lie on your side, and place the foam roller in the middle of your lat… basically near your armpit! Keep the leg that is on the same side of the body you are rolling extended straight, and the other foot can be flat on the floor with the knee up. The foot that is flat on the floor can be in front or behind the extended leg, whatever is most comfortable for you. Slowly roll up and down the side of your body. This is an area that a lot of my women often feel really tight and don’t even realize it until they start foam rolling!
Sit on top of the foam roller with all of your weight on one butt cheek. You can keep one hand flat on the floor for balance. If putting your weight into the right side, cross your right ankle over your left knee with your left foot flat on the floor, or vice versa. Roll up and down the entire glute, then switch sides.
Lie on your side, supporting yourself with your forearm, as if you were in a side plank. Rest the outside of one thigh on top of the roller. You can keep the other foot flat on the floor with the knee bent, either in front or in back of the extended leg, whichever feels more comfortable for you. Slowly roll up and down along the side of the thigh from the hip to knee.
Lie face down with the tops of your thighs on the roller and your upper body supported on the ground with your forearms, as if you were holding a forearm plank. Slowly roll from the bottom of your hip to the top of your knee on the inner and outer quad. Do not ever roll directly on your knee, and do not sag your lower back. You could choose to do this one leg at a time too for extra pressure on each leg.
Of course you can foam roll other areas too as needed: hamstrings, calves, inner thigh/groin, even pecs. For pecs, you may consider using a medicine, tennis, or lacrosse ball to get into the chest a little more easily.
A couple of tips:
First, know that foam rolling can be super awkward when you first give it a try. Like anything else, you will need to learn how to properly do it to adjust and feel 100% comfortable. You will likely fall off the roller a couple of times, but it’s totally normal and fine. Don’t let that intimidate you… if you roll off of it, I promise others have done it too, and you only will fall an inch to the floor. No biggie.
Next, you can roll in multiple directions: up and down, but also side to side. You can also use longer foam rolling strokes or shorter ones, depending on how targeted into one muscle spot you are trying to get.
Pay attention to your form! Body alignment is important, even with foam rolling. For example, in a forearm plank, you wouldn’t let your lower body sag. You wouldn’t want to while basically holding a plank position to foam roll your quads either.
White foam rollers are recommended for beginners, as they are softer and less dense than black ones.
There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to the best time to foam roll. As mentioned, I like it for transitioning into my workout from every day life demands. Others like it for post-workout recovery or for movement on rest days. Do it when it works best for you.
Finally, be careful of letting foam rolling hurt too good. It should cause a little discomfort as you are really getting to your muscles, but it shouldn’t cause PAIN. If you are able to relax into the motion, you are good. If you feel anything sharp or shooting, stop immediately! Not worth it.
Let’s chat! Do you currently foam roll? When do you do it? Do you love it, hate it, or feel indifferent about it? Does it help your performance in the gym?
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My foam roller might be the best thing I own. I use it before and after workouts (especially leg day), and on off days. It helps me avoid recurring injuries or pain for things like my IT bands and hip adductors / groins. Lacrosse ball on the wall for pecs definitely works wonders!
Coming from personal experience, I would say a key to foam rolling is being proactive and preventative with it and not necessarily just as a reaction to injuries.