6 Simple Exercises Using A Foam Roller

Foam rollers have gained substantial popularity in the last decade and are commonly prescribed by health and fitness professionals to improve myofascial mobility, as well as to enhance recovery and performance¹. That being said, the effectiveness of foam rollers has been a hot topic, and consequently, has been heavily researched in the last 5 years. As for the question: do foam rollers actually work? That question is answered in my previous article. The next question you may have asked yourself is: how do I use a foam roller? For those of you who would like to know more about why foam rollers are used, as well as whether or not their effectiveness has been supported by research, take a look at this article reviewing the scientific literature on these topics. Before I provide some examples of simple exercises you can do with your foam roller, let’s go over the basics for those of you who are new to this concept.

What Is A Foam Roller?

Foam rollers are a form of self-myofascial release in which the client uses their body weight to apply pressure on a specific soft tissue by rolling on it with the ultimate goal of enhancing myofascial mobility¹. Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, varying from 6 inches by 36 inches, to 6 inches by 18 inches. Different foam densities and material allow for varying depths of self-myofascial release. Other forms of self-myofascial release include using massage rollers, which are typically applied against a soft tissue with the upper extremities, as well as tennis balls¹.

6 Simple Exercises Using A Foam Roller

I would like to take a minute to mention a few things about foam rolling. Firstly, there is currently insufficient evidence to support any specific training protocol and/or parameters. That being said, research studies that have demonstrated improvements in flexibility (although short term), typically foam rolled between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, 2 to 5 times within one session ¹ ². Therefore, the parameters recommended for the following exercises are based on the available literature on foam rolling. Secondly, I must mention that foam rolling is not meant to be comfortable. You will likely experience discomfort and/or pain while foam rolling. If you are new to foam rolling, go at your own pace. I typically suggest foam rolling for 1 to 2 minutes, for 3 sets. You can also begin by foam rolling for 30 seconds, for 3 sets, and work your way up to 1 minute as you being accustomed to it. You can also adjust the amount of pressure on the selected muscle by removing or adding more of your body weight while rolling. Lastly, due to the high level of compression generated while foam rolling, any individuals with peripheral neuropathy, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, or any individuals with an increased risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis should not be using a foam roller³.

1. Foam Roller – Right Quadriceps: 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Place the front of your right thigh on the foam roller. Your left leg should not be in contact with the foam roller. Roll slowly from the top of your thigh down to just above your knee. Do not foam roll over the front of your knee joint. A cycle consists of going from the top of your thigh, to above the knee, and back up. This cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence.

2. Foam Roller – Right Iliotibial Band (IT Band): 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Place the lateral part of your right thigh on the foam roller. Your left leg should be crossed over the right leg and should not be in contact with the foam roller. Roll slowly from the top of your lateral thigh down to just above your knee. Do not foam roll over the side of your knee joint. A cycle consists of going from the top of your thigh, to above the knee, and back up. This cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence. This is likely to be one of the more uncomfortable and/or painful exercises.

3. Foam Roller – Left Gluteals: 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Cross your left leg over your right leg as shown in the picture above and place your right buttock on the foam roller. Shift your body over the right buttock so that you are weight bearing on the right hand. Roll frontward and backward over the gluteal region. One cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence.

4. Foam Roller – Left Hamstring: 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Place the back of your left thigh on the foam roller. Your left leg should not be in contact with the foam roller. Roll slowly from the top of your posterior thigh down to just above your posterior knee. A cycle consists of going from the top of your thigh, to the knee, and back up. This cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence. The area behind the knee is referred to as the popliteal fossa. This area is important because the popliteal artery and vein run through this area, and this is also where the sciatic nerve bifurcates into the tibial and common peroneal nerve. These structures are delicate and vulnerable to compression at this location. Therefore, DO NOT foam roll the posterior part of the knee.

5. Foam Roller – Right Adductors: 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Place the inside of your right thigh on the foam roller. Your left leg should not be in contact with the foam roller. Roll slowly from the inside of your thigh nearest to the grown, all the way to your inner thigh closest to the knee. Do not foam roll over the knee joint. A cycle consists of going from the inner thigh nearest to the groin, to your inner thigh nearest to the knee, and back. This cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence.

6. Foam Roller – Left Calf: 3 sets of 1-2 minutes, 3-4 times per week

Description: Place your left calf on the foam roller. Your left leg should not be in contact with the foam roller. Roll slowly from the top of your calf down to just above your ankle. As previously mentioned, do not foam roll over the back of your knee. A cycle consists of going from the top of your calf, to the bottom of your calf just above the ankle, and back up. This cycle should typically take at least ten seconds to allow for a slow and controlled cadence.

Written by:
Anthony Teoli MScPT
Registered Physiotherapist
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If you have any questions or concerns regarding how you to use a foam roller, please consult your physiotherapist or any other qualified health professional. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the content of this blog post, you may contact me directly infophysiotherapy10@gmail.com.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog is not meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes. It should not substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. This blog was not created to provide physiotherapy consultations, nor was it created to obtain new clients. The content of this blog is a resource for information only. This blog was created to serve as an information resource for both the general population and health professionals. For any further questions or concerns regarding how you to use a foam roller, please consult your physiotherapist or any other qualified health professional.

References

1. Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., Lee, M. (2015), The Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using A Foam Or Roller Massager On Joint Range Of Motion, Muscle Recovery, And Performance: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(6): 827-838.

2. Beardsley, C. & Skarabot, J. (2015). Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 19(4): 747-758.

3. Freiwald, J., Baumgart, C., Kuhnemann, M., & Hoppe, M. W. (2016). Foam Rolling in sport and therapy – Potential benefits and risks Part 2. Sports Orthopaedics and Traumatology, 32(3): 267-275.

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