Foam roller exercises can be a great way to improve your flexibility, relieve tight muscles, reduce stiffness of the spine, as well as improve your overall performance of functional activity such as running and working out.
Researchers from the University of Oregon found that:
“…repeated foam rolling is beneficial, both objectively and subjectively, for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity.”
They specifically observed improved hip extension during the performance of a lunge exercise following foam rolling intervention. I’ll show you how to do this as well.
These researchers reported:
“The increases in hip extension observed in a lunge immediately after foam rolling and after repeated exposure support the use of foam rolling as a pre physical activity and warm-up modality.”
There is also a research team from Japan who have found that using a foam roller to release myofascial tissue can also improve blood flow.
“SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) using a foam roller exerts a favorable effect on arterial function.”
In my clinical experience, I find that using the foam roller to address abnormal tension and stiffness can help improve posture and restore normal movement patterns.
I find this especially helpful for people who have tight IT Bands, Quadriceps, Calves, and back stiffness.
You can use the foam roller for other areas, as well as for different types of exercises including core strengthening.
When you first start using a foam roller, you can expect some discomfort, especially if you have tight restricted muscles or “knots”. Some will call this a “good pain”, like the kind you feel when you know you are doing so much good for your body!
If you keep up with this, the discomfort will improve and so will your workouts.
Here are 4 Simple Foam Roller Exercises That Will Improve Your Workout
1) Quadriceps Release
Lying face down with the foam roller under the front of your thighs, roll the area below your hip and above your knee. You can either roll one leg or both at the same time. Use your arms to help move your body forwards and then backwards.
This is the exercise used in the research I mentioned above. Do this specifically on a day when you’re going to do lunges.
2) Calf Release
In a long sitting position, place one calf on the foam roller with the other one crossed over top. Roll between the area below the knee and above the heel. Use your hands to support your weight and move your body forwards and backwards.
This is a great if you do a lot of jumping type exercises (box jumps, jumping jacks, etc.)
3) IT Band Release
In a side lying position with the foam roller under the outside of your thigh, roll between just below your hip and above the knee. The top leg should be in front with the foot planted. This will assist in controlling the movement.
Many runners suffer from IT Band Syndrome. This is a great way to help release that tight IT Band! Use this if you’re doing a lot of running outside or on the treadmill.
4) Thoracic Spine Extension
Lying on your back with the foam roller at the bottom of the mid back (avoid being in the curve of the low back), roll up and down the spine higher than the low back and lower than the neck. Keep your hand interlocked behind your neck for support and to encourage additional extension of the mid back.
This is a great exercise to improve a rounded posture often caused by prolonged sitting (desk work, drivers, etc.). If you are going to the gym right after work that involves sitting for long periods, definitely do this first.
All these exercises can be performed for 60 to 90 seconds to get an optimal release. As is the case for any stretching, it is best to perform these on warm rather than cold muscles. Do a light dynamic warm up (i.e. stationary bike) before you get started. Read 5 Quick Tips for Better Stretching for more guidance on stretching.