What Is A Foam Roller, And What Are The Benefits Of Using One?

What Is A Foam Roller, And What Are The Benefits Of Using One?

clock-circular-outlinePosted 18 Aug 2023

As a self-myofascial release technique, foam rolling targets the soft tissues and provides the perfect relief for tension, tightness, muscle inflammation and soreness caused by the dreaded DOMS. You may need to grit your teeth as you work through the tension in your tight spots, but the relief you will feel when you can finally walk down the stairs with ease is completely worth it.

We can’t emphasise enough how good foam rolling feels for the muscles after a big day on the squat rack. It’s not everyday we can turn to the wizardry of a masseuse’s hands to knead and squeeze the pain and stiffness out of our muscles. But with a foam roller, you’ll be able to provide yourself with some well deserved relief.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is just the thing you need to press fast forward on your recovery and bring relief to your sore muscles. It’s a multi-purpose lightweight, cylindrical tube made from compressed foam and typically ranges from 25 cm to 90 cm in length and 5-6 inches in diameter.

Foam rollers come in different forms, and you’ll often see textured rollers with grooves, ridges or spikes on the surface which are purposefully placed to achieve a more targeted massage.

Soft foam rollers on the other hand have a smooth finish and provide a more comfortable, gentle self-massage that can be used for a variety of exercises and work particularly well for holding pressure on an area to feel a release.

The differing options are great for changing the pressure of your foam rolling, and can be especially useful for those more sensitive days when you’d much rather opt for a rejuvenating massage over a slightly excruciating one.

Does size matter?

The assortment of foam roller sizes can be a bit daunting when it comes to checking out, but it’s important to get the right size roller for your needs. You’ll want to consider the diameter and length of the foam roller for the area of muscles you’re planning on targeting.

Long rollers are a good first choice thanks to their versatility. They span the width of your whole back and can also be easier to use when targeting your quads, hammies and IT band thanks to their stability. You’re best off choosing a longer length foam roller if you’re looking to target multiple areas of the body such as both legs at once.

Shorter rollers can measure as small as 10cm in length and are good for muscle targeting on smaller areas of the body like arms and calves. This style is great if you’re an athlete or have recurring tension or inflammation in specific areas of the body.

Just like yoga blocks, it’s worth a mention that foam rollers can be made from cork if you fancy something more durable and eco-friendly for your sore muscle relief.

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What is foam rolling actually good for?

  • Improves range of motion in the joints. (Foam rolling increases the flexibility of the surrounding muscle by promoting the sliding and gliding of the fascia). [1]

  • Alleviates muscle soreness and tenderness [2]

  • Aids in muscle recovery and relieves DOMS [3]

  • Prevents injury by relieving tension and tightness

  • Reawakens inactive muscles such as the deep gluteal muscles when foam rolled

  • Reduces post-workout fatigue when used to warm-up [4]

  • Improves posture and muscle imbalances

  • Feels good for those R&R moments

How to use a foam roller?

Studies have shown that 30 seconds of foam rolling is effective to improve the range of motion in your joints, but if you want to feel more of the therapeutic benefits we recommend applying pressure with the foam roller for 1-2 minutes per exercise.

With foam rolling, the technique differs for each muscle, so discover how to use a foam roller effectively to target specific areas of the body.

Ensure you repeat the following exercises on each side of the body.


Foam roller exercises for your upper body

Read on to learn instructions on how to perform foam roller exercises for the different muscles in your upper body.

Upper back

  1. Lie on the your back and position the foam roller across your back just below the shoulder blades. Your legs will be most comfortable placed in a bent position with your feet flat on the ground.

  2. Interlock your hands at the base of your head to provide support.

  3. Lightly engage your core by bracing your core to support your lower back.

  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds and extend the upper back over the roller.

  5. Shift your hips down toward your feet a few centimetres, moving the roller into a higher position on your back.

  6. The more you scoot towards your feet, the further the roller will move up your back.

  7. Once the roller is even with the shoulder-blades, tuck your elbows in so your back muscles lengthen, allowing more muscle to contact the roller.


  1. Begin lying face down with the the top of the foam roller placed in line with your armpit. Extend your arm out to the side over the foam roller.

  2. Shift your stomach and hips off the ground and lean into the foam roller.

  3. Gradually apply pressure and roll laterally over your chest and front shoulder muscles.


  1. Start by lying on your back and twist your body at a 45-degree angle towards your focused side and position the foam roller just under the lat on that same side.

  2. Keep your focused arm extended over the foam roller.

  3. Your bottom leg on your focused side should be straight with your foot pressing into the ground for stability and your top leg should be crossed over the top.

  4. Push your weight into the roller and begin rolling from your armpit to the mid-back on your focused area, pausing to hold on tender areas.


  1. Start in a lateral position lying on your side with the foam roller placed underneath the focused shoulder.

  2. Relax the lower body in a comfortable position and keep your other arm stretched out front for stability.

  3. Slowly roll up and down the torso focusing on the deltoid muscle. You can also rotate your torso so the foam roller hits your upper back if needed.


  1. Begin lying down resting the top of your neck/base of your head on the foam roller.

  2. Rotate your head to the left over the foam roller, pausing on tense areas to feel a release.

  3. Exhale and turn your head to the right.

Foam rolling tip: For each foam rolling exercises you should ensure to pause at points that feel particularly tight or tender. Breathe deeply by inhaling and exhaling slowly and roll slowly away from the trigger point once you feel some relief. Tackle the tension in sections rather than continuously moving over the whole body. For example, roll the entire back area from the neck to the lower back before moving to the glutes, and repeat until all areas of tension have been addressed.

Foam roller exercises for your lower body

Find out how to perform foam roller exercises for the different muscles in your lower body.


  1. Start by laying face down in a plank position on your elbows with the foam roller placed just below your hips at the top of your quads.

  2. Put all your weight into the foam roller and slowly roll the roller up and down your thighs to just above the knee.

  3. Shift your bodyweight onto one side of your legs to feel a more focused muscle release on the quads.


  1. Sit down and place a foam roller under one or both of your hamstrings (the back of your legs), close to the back of your knee.

  2. In this position your feet should be floating off the ground and your weight should be pushing into the foam roller

  3. Using your hands to support your bodyweight, roll your hamstrings up and down the foam roller to feel the release.


  1. Begin sitting down and place a foam roller at the base of your calf muscles on both legs.

  2. Place your hands on the ground behind you to steady yourself and lift your hips up to apply pressure onto the foam roller. You should be holding yourself in an L-Sit position.

  3. Shift your bodyweight slowly backward so that the foam roller rolls up your calf and move your weight forwards so the foam roller rolls back down your calf. Repeat.

IT band

  1. Begin lying on your side with foam roller placed between the hip and the knee of your bottom leg.

  2. Cross your top leg over the bottom leg and place the foot on the floor

  3. Shift as much weight as possible into the bottom leg and roll the foamer down from the hip to just above the knee and back up.


  1. Begin by sitting down with a roller placed under the glutes with the knees bent.

  2. Cross one leg over the knee and tilt the body slightly towards the crossed leg.

  3. Shift your weight forward and backwards over the top of the glute to the bottom and you will feel the stretch over your glutes and piriformis.

  4. Lean your bodyweight to one side of the glute and then the other so more of your glute muscles make contact with the foam roller.

Is foam rolling better than stretching?

Whilst studies have shown that foam rolling can have a number of benefits, the research is still in its infancy and there is still many findings to be discovered. To get the best from your warm ups and recovery methods it’s important to combine both self-myofascial release with other techniques to improve range of motion like passive stretching, dynamic stretching and mobility drills. To find out more about mobility routines you can add to your schedules, check out these articles:


[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26618062/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24343353/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7319325/

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23588488/

GymsharkBy Gymshark

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