A foam roller was one of the first accessories I bought when I started running. I still have that same foam roller, almost a decade later, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve been foam rolling regularly since then. I go through phases when I’m either foam rolling consistently or not at all. Recently, I’ve been foam rolling consistently; and have found that foam rolling is far more useful than stretching when it comes to relieving tired and stiff muscles after a workout.
Including a proper cool down after exercise is crucial to preventing injuries and allowing you to come back the next day and give it your all. To make sense of what foam rolling is, when to do it and how to use your foam roller; we’ve enlisted the help of Cayla Urdang.
Cayla Urdang is a qualified biokineticist, recognized by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA). She is part of Shehnaaz Bhabha Biokinetics, a Biokinetics studio based out of the Centre of Advanced Medicine in Waverly, Johannesburg. Biokinetics can be explained as exercise therapy. As a biokineticist, Cayla is an exercise specialist that manages various conditions through exercise and rehab. Shenaaz Bhabha biokentics is also active with wellness promotion, weight loss, injury prevention, sports conditioning and performance.
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a technique that utilizes the cylindrical shape of the foam roller to facilitate self-massage and myofascial release.
What is foam rolling used for?
Foam rolling can be used for a warm-up to prepare the muscles for exercise. It can also be used as part of training to improve core stability as well as improve mobility.
Why is foam rolling good for you?
Foam Rolling increases blood circulation as well as helps loosen up stiff muscles temporarily.
Who should be foam rolling?
Anyone can foam roll. [ed note: it is particularly useful for those who exercise regularly or at high intensities as it helps loosen up stiff muscles and aid recovery].
How often and for how long should one foam roll?
5-10 minutes of foam rolling is enough as each muscle group should be rolled for about 30 seconds. Foam rolling can be done before or after a workout and there is no limit to how often.
What does foam rolling do for your muscles?
Foam rolling warms up muscles, aids with recovery of muscles, prevents injuries and increases range of motion.
What should you look for when buying a foam roller?
When looking to buy a foam roller one should make sure that it is not too soft. If you are going to be training core and using it as part of your exercise routine, a full-length foam roller is preferable. If you are only using it for stretching and myofascial release, a shorter one will do. Some foam rollers have ridges and bumps on them. Choosing such a foam roller comes down to personal preference. [Ed note: we’ve found that foam rollers with ridges and bumps gives a more intense massage. Opt for those if you have a high pain threshold. If you’re starting out, a smooth foam roller is a better choice. Some of the exercises shown below work on a smooth and not a ridged foam roller]
How to Use A Foam Roller for Recovery and as Part of Your Exercise Routine
Cayla showed us how to use a foam roller in two ways. First as part of recovery – these ten moves are best done after a workout as a cool-down. They help loosen tight muscles, stretch them out, and massage tired limbs.
The second way is to incorporate it into your exercise routine. Cayla showed us three core moves which use a foam roller to make moves you may already be doing more challenging. These moves require you to activate your core more and focus on balance.
10 foam roller moves to aid recovery and prevent injury
1. Thoracic spine stretch
What it targets: This moves stretches the anterior structures
How to do it: Place a foam roller under your thoracic spine. Cross your arms across your chest. Lift your pelvis off the floor with feet flat. Use your feet and legs to move backwards and forwards. Only go halfway down the back. Repeat 10-12 times
2. Pec stretch
What it targets: the pectoralis major
How to do it: Lie with a foam roller directly on your spine. Lift your arms up to 90 degrees to your body. Lift your elbow 90 degrees. Relax arms and let them go back as far as possible. Hold it for 20 seconds.
3. Thoracic spine stretch
What it targets: This helps with thoracic spine movement
How to do it: Lie with a foam roller under your thoracic spine. Place your hands behind your head and slowly move your upper back into flexion and extension. Repeat 10-12 times.
What it targets: The glutes and piriformis
How to do it: Sit on a foam roller. Place one ankle on the opposite knee so that you are in a ‘figure 4’. Lean to the side that has the leg up and roll up and down along the glute. Repeat for 30-60 seconds each side.
What it targets: This stretches and massages your hamstrings.
How to do it: Place A foam roller on the floor under your hamstrings. use your hands to lift your body up and roll backwards and forwards. Go all the way up and down the hamstring. Repeat 10-12 times.
What it targets: The gastrocnemius and soleus
How to do it: Place a foam roller under your calf. Use your hands to lift your body up and roll backwards and forwards. Repeat 10-12 times.
What it targets: The ITB (Iliotibial Band) which is a fascia and the TFL (Tensor Fascia Lata) muscle.
How to do it: Place a foam roller on the floor. Take a side position with the outside of the thigh over the foam roller and your other leg in front for support. Roll the entire outside of your leg from your pelvis to your knee in an up and down motion. Maintain your abs tight and a proper low back posture during the exercise. Repeat 10-12 times on each side.
8. Hip Flexors and Quads
What it targets: This loosens the quads and hip flexors.
How to do it: Place a foam roller on the floor and lie on your stomach with the front of your thighs over it. Roll the entire front of the thighs from the top of the hips to the top of the kneecaps in an up and down motion. You should pull yourself with your elbows and forearms. Pause at any spots that feel especially tender. Keep your quadriceps relaxed. Maintain abs tight and proper low back posture during the exercise. Repeat 10-12 times.
9. Side lying T stretch
What it targets: This helps with Thoracic spine mobility
How to do it: Start on your side, top leg flexed at the hips with the knee at 90° and lower leg straight. Place a foam roller under the top knee and press onto it so the knee is in constant contact with it. Open the top arm and reach around to the other side, going over the eyes and come back. Repeat 10-12 times on each side.
10. Child’s Pose
What it targets: This stretches the latisimus dorsi
How to do it: Place a foam roller on the floor and take a kneeling four-point position with your wrists on the foam roller in front of you. Roll the foam roller forward by stretching your spine and lowering your chest towards the floor.
3 Foam Roller Moves for Core strength and Stability
1. Sit Ups
What it targets: The rectus abdominis, Transverse abdominis, obliques and hip flexors.
How to do it: Lie down on a foam roller with your feet on the ground and your knees bent. Cross your arms over your chest. Raise your shoulders off the roller in a straight pattern to perform a crunch. Repeat 10 times.
2. Leg Drops
What it targets: The Transverse Abdominis, obliques and hip flexors
How to do it: Lie on a foam roller with both legs up toward the ceiling. Lower one leg toward the floor while keeping your lower back flat on the foam roller and knees straight.
Bring your legs to the lowest point where you can still maintain the lower back flat on the foam roller. Return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
3. High plank shoulder taps
What it targets: The traps, rhomboids, pecs, biceps, triceps and core
How to do it: Position yourself in a plank position with hands on a foam roller (push-up position) with feet a shoulder width apart. Keep your abdominals braced and tap the opposite shoulder with the hand. Make sure your hips and trunk don’t shift to one side as you tap. Your trunk should remain still. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.