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How to Foam Roll | A Guide to Foam Rolling for Exercise

Updated: Apr 12, 2021


Foam rolling is movement.

Movement is exercise.


Foam rolling can be a very easy exercise, like lying on your back calm and relaxed, or very hard, like holding a side plank while moving up and down. What you choose to use it for depends on your fitness level and goals. Like any piece of fitness equipment we don't want to do the hardest thing possible right out of the gates. It is usually best to start small, learn the basics, and progress. The same goes for foam rolling. Remember, when it comes to exercise there is always more than meets the eye.

how to foam roll to relieve muscle soreness



Foam rolling can put you into several challenging and awkward positions. Depending on the position, you could be placing a high level of stress on your muscles, ligaments, and joints. Add in some additional rolling movements and it can feel like a workout in no time. Some strength is required and it is important to establish a foundation to help minimize the risk of injury. By practicing a few exercises you will know if you are ready to safely support your body while rolling. Try to remember the verbal cues from these exercise videos while foam rolling. They will help protect against excessive stress that could lead to injury overtime.

Important Verbal Cues to Remember

  1. Squeeze shoulder blades back.

  2. Use hands and feet to help roll.

  3. Press into ground to support body.

  4. Keep abdominals engaged.


Muscles lay on top of one another and move in every direction. It is going to take a couple of specific techniques to maneuver around and access each one.

Rolling Upward & Downward

This is the most common movement you'll see on the roller and is effective at massaging longer muscles like the hamstrings and calves. You will glide with the roller to reach the full length of muscles, however, this often requires your arms and legs to be in outstretched positions. Make sure to keep extra awareness of your upper and lower body joints to avoid excessive stress and pain.

Rotating Forward & Backward

Every movement on this list can be applied to any muscle. Combining upward and downward movements with rotating forward and back will help access muscles at several different angles and depths. A popular area to perform the rotational movement on is the gluteals and hip flexors. These muscles can be located between the top of the pelvic bone and hip bone. Place the foam roller between these two surfaces and feel for all the muscles in between.

Shifting (Shearing) Left & Right

The foam roller is very effective at applying pressured massage to the muscles of the body. But it can also be an effective means of massaging the skin. This is called myo-fascial release and involves a friction style massage of the layers of tissue between the foam roller and muscle. When you find a sensitive area, pause, and shift the body left and right. Feel for tension in the skin and an additional pull through the muscle. This should feel different from the previous two movements. Through shearing we are desensitizing the skin and increasing blood flow through each layer of tissue beneath.


Similar to any other exercise foam rolling can be programmed into sets, reps, and body regions. But it also has its own definitive lingo such as density, intensity, duration, and length.

Density can be defined by the firmness of the foam roller itself. Personally, I use heavy density on larger muscle groups and softer density on small muscle groups in boney areas. There are also textured, rigid rollers and vibrating rollers. These are more of a novelty than actually effective at relieving myofascial tension.

Intensity is the physical level you experience when applying pressure into the foam roller. Intensity levels are managed through density of the foam roller and amount of body weight applied through targeted area. We can use our body strength to control the amount of weight applied and use a subjective scale of 0-10 to grade intensity.

Duration reflects the amount of time spent with each roll. This can last any amount of duration but can be static as well. When statically holding a foam roller over an intense area we are performing a modified form of trigger point release.

Length is defined by the distance covered with each roll. As foam rolling skills improve, we can increase the length of each roll. Increasing the length can improve our body strength and awareness and improve the efficiency of our foam rolling sessions.

Applying these four factors to a foam rolling regimen can create tough, calorie burning workouts while simultaneously improving the health and function of your skin, fascia, and muscles.


Example: Lower Body Foam Rolling

Density: Heavy density foam roller for larger muscle groups of the lower body

Intensity: Starting with a range of 6-7. Goal to decrease to 2-3.

Duration: 5-10 seconds per roll

Length: Full muscle belly

Frequency: 2 sets of 20-25 rolls each muscle

Targeted regions: quadriceps, hamstrings, IT band, adductors, calf group


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