Foam Roller 101: Usage and 10 Exercises to Try

By: Jen Goehring, Physiotherapist

Foam rollers: I bet you have heard this buzz word before! Perhaps you have seen that funny looking cylinder at your local gym, or in your friend’s living room. But, do you know how, when, or where to use it? Stick with me through this short post and I will teach you foam rolling basics, as well as my top 10 favourite exercises to release full body tension.

What is a Foam Roller?

Let’s start by answering this question. A foam roller is a dense cylinder that is used as a self-release tool to help get rid of tight muscles or knots. The purpose of foam rolling is to relieve tension and pain in your muscles, as well as increase range of motion. Firstly, you want to place the foam roller on an area of discomfort in your body. Secondly, slowly lower your weight onto it. Thirdly, hold your position for tension relief. Easy, right?

8 Basic Tips for Foam Rolling

  1. Foam rolling is best performed when you are warm, like after a warm-up or work out.
  2. For best results, foam roll a muscle group or area for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  3. Most important: only roll your muscles. Never use a foam roller over bone, joints, or your lower back.
  4. It is best to stay on a muscle with your foam roller until you notice a change in discomfort. This means you should feel relief. For example, if you start and the discomfort feels like a 5 out of 10, wait until it feels like a 3 out of 10. Then you can move onto the next area.
  5. Discomfort or soreness while foam rolling is normal. In fact, you want to use your roller on the worst spot you can find in a muscle group. However, pain is not normal. If you are rolling and it is painful, you should ease back.
  6. Foam rolling is most effective on larger muscle groups, as pictured below. Use a lacrosse ball or another self-release tool for fan-shaped or irregular-shaped muscles.
  7. There are two different techniques for foam rolling, both of which are effective. Option #1: Roll up and down on the area. Option #2: Place and hold the foam roller on one spot.
  8. There are many different positions that you could use for foam rolling the same area. Find a position that works for you.

Top 10 Exercises

Below are pictures of my top 10 favourite stretches and exercises to do with a foam roller. This routine will help you relieve tension from head to toe in about 10 minutes!

Thoracic Extension

– Support your neck with your arms while bringing your elbows in line with your ears (added chest stretch).
– Keep your bum on the ground with your knees bent to protect your lower back.

Lats Stretch

– Roll up and down on your side. Your lat muscles span from your shoulder to your lower back (these are huge muscles!).

Quadriceps or Thigh Stretch

– Roll from your hip to just above your kneecaps.

IT Band Stretch

– Use a tripod position to help offload some of your weight (both arms and opposite leg). This one is quite intense!

– Roll from your hip to just above your knee joint.

Groin Stretch

– Roll from your pubic bone to the top of the knee.

– This exercise takes a little bit of coordination – make sure you get your bottom leg out of the way and try to apply as much pressure downward as possible.

Hip Flexor Stretch

– Roll from below your belly button to your hip bones.

Shin/Outside Shin Release (2 Areas)

– Roll from below the knee joint to the top of the ankle.

– You can move side to side to get different parts of the muscle.





Glute/Buttock Stretch

– Get yourself into a figure-4 stretch, then lean slightly onto the side of the leg that is up.

Hamstring Stretch

– Put one leg over top of the other to get more pressure on the hamstring for a greater release.

– Roll from just below your sit bone to just above the knee joint.

Calf Stretch

– Put one leg over top of the other to get more pressure on the calf for a greater release.

– Roll from just below your knee joint to the top of the Achilles. Gently roll to both sides to relieve both heads of the calf muscles.

If you have any questions about foam rolling or need some self-release tools for your home rehab, you can book your appointment online by clicking here.