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Five Foam Rolling Exercises to Try Now

Do you feel your body instantly tense when you hear the words foam rolling? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Running, spinning, squats, we can do that. Our ego tells us, “we got this.” Then our eyes catch sight of the foam roller and we decide that it should continue to be a piece of art in the living room for just one more day. 

Dan Giordano, physiotherapist and co-founder of Bespoke Treatments and Rove Goods says, "Brush the roller off, turn the music up and pay attention to your body."

Every week, Giordano works with a wide range of athletes looking to mend the strained relationship to the roller. He coaches a dynamic workout and recovery session that fires up the key muscle groups, brings attention to the stabilization muscles through core engagement, and empowers his clients by teaching them basic anatomy.

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Foam rolling is a form of self-massage (in medical terms, it’s self-myofascial release). It’s used to increase flexibility and release knots, trigger points and adhesions. By massaging an area with a foam roller, you may be able to improve performance and flexibility, increase circulation, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. More recently, foam rolling has been used as a warm-up tool that increases blood flow to tissues without affecting strength. 

Let's be real though, most of us bought the roller because we know it is good for us, but now what? How do we save the foam roller from becoming our arch nemesis or another seat for guests? Read on as Giordano gets us started with five moves to try at home, and debunks the top three foam-rolling myths. Ready or not, let’s roll. 
 

Giordano’s three-minute pre-sweat warm up:

Move 1: The thoracic spine (30 seconds)

  • Give yourself a hug, wrapping the arms underneath the armpits (this should help locate where the lat attaches to the thoracic spine).
  • Gaze towards the navel.
  • Slowly roll side to side to release the adhesion. 
 
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Move 2: Get into the gluteus and pirformis (30 seconds per side)

  • Sit on top of the foam roller in a figure-four position (one leg crossed over the thigh).
  • Place the hands behind, with palms flat on the floor.
  • Transfer weight to the side of whatever foot is off the ground.
  • Roll up an inch, down an inch and side to side, two inches at a time. Pause on the knots and take two deep breaths.
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Move 3: This move shows some attention to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae, aka that awkward spot that probably takes the blame for hip pain) is the small muscle that lies in front of the hip joint and the gluteus medius (30 seconds per side)

The TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae, aka that awkward spot that probably takes the blame for hip pain) is the small muscle that lies in front of the hip joint and our gluteus medius is the muscle we are going to show some attention to.   

  • Lie on one side with the forearm propped (as if in a side plank position) with the foam roller placed just under the pelvis bone.
  • Slightly rotate the entire body backwards so that the pressure of the roller is between the bum and the hip.
  • Roll up an inch, down an inch, then side to side a few inches at a time. Press pause on the knots while taking two deep breaths.
     
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Move 4: The front leg game, time to roll out the quadriceps (30 seconds each side)

  • Lie on the stomach with the forearms on the floor (as if in a forearm plank position) with the foam roller under the thighs.
  • Roll up an inch, down an inch, then side to side a few inches at a time pausing on the knots in the area.
  • Because the quadriceps are large muscles, separate the rolling into segments. Do not try to roll the entire muscle at once.

Tip: To increase the intensity, cross one leg over the other and shift weight towards the leg on the bottom, then begin to roll.
 

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Move 5: The back leg game, time for the calves (30 seconds each side)

  • Sit on the floor with the roller placed under both calves, slightly 
  • Place the hands behind, palms flat on the floor.
  • Roll up an inch, down an inch and side to side a few inches at a time. Press pause where there’s a knot and take two deep breaths.
  • While lowering, discover the soleus muscle, the meaty part of the calf. Do not roll too far down towards the Achilles tendon (stay about two inches above the heel). The Achilles tendon is very sensitive and rolling directly on the area may cause irritation.

Tip: In order to increase the intensity of the rolling, cross one leg over the other and shift the weight towards the leg on the bottom, then begin to roll.
 

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Myth One: Foam rolling is for after you get sweaty.

How many times have we looked at the foam roller as a piece of the kit that aids in our recovery? What if foam rolling before getting sweaty is where we’ll see major benefits?

New research has shown that myofascial release (or self-massage) with a foam roller can improve range of motion without having a negative effect on strength. As a warm-up tool, the foam roller can cause an increase in heart rate and will cause an increase in blood flow to the area warming up the muscle.

Myth Two: Stick with the pain, it’ll be over soon.

When you’re on the roller and feel that spot that makes your face scrunch—you know the one—this is called an adhesion or trigger point (what most people call a knot). Are you supposed to grit and deal with the pain? To foam roll properly, Giordano says to apply mild to moderate pressure to the specific area you want to focus on. If the direct pressure is too much or too painful, you should shift the roller to decrease the amount of pressure. Once you get the correct amount of pressure (there shouldn’t be pain but it shouldn’t feel like a stroll in the park), slowly roll your body over the desired area.

To foam roll properly, Giordano says apply mild to moderate pressure to the specific area you want to focus on. If the direct pressure is too much or too painful, you should shift the roller to decrease the amount of pressure. Once you get the correct amount of pressure (there shouldn’t be pain but it shouldn’t feel like a stroll in the park) slowly roll your body over the desired area.

Myth three: Roll up and down.

The foam roller might be round and it definitely includes the word roll in it, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to roll up and down. What about some side to side action?

Once you get the correct amount of pressure (it should feel slightly uncomfortable but remember, no pain), slowly begin to move the roller on the area. Do not roll more than a few inches per second. When you feel the restriction (or the knot) press pause and roll up an inch, down an inch and then side to side. Most knots will start to release after rolling on the area for about 30 seconds.

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