Lean how to use a foam roller as a self massage tool.
A foam roller is a tool, not a system.
Sometimes it is useful to focus on the tool available because, it is available.
But it is important to remember that there are usually a variety of systems that you could be using with a particular tool.
The most common way to use a foam roller is as a Self Massage Device. There are many benefits of Self Massage such as increased blood flow, faster recovery time, Injury rehabilitation, decreased injury risk and improved range of motion.
But it is also effective as a Warm up tool, a mobilization device, and there are some great strength exercises that you can do with it in a pinch.
This article will focus on how to make your foam roller into a Self Massage tool.
The foam roller is one of the best Self Massage tools on the market.
If you have ever gotten a massage than you know that having someone apply pressure to your muscles can feel really good and help you recover. No tool can replicate what a trained professional is able to do but you can still get a significant effect by doing it yourself.
And doing it yourself with a tool, such as a foam roller, is much more accessible. It is cheap, you don’t have to schedule it and you don’t have to leave your home.
Before we go into specific techniques or exercises first you need to know the principles of Self massage.
Breathe deep with a relaxed face
While Self Massage can feel really good, it can also be uncomfortable.
But it shouldn’t be painful.
If you are getting an intense pain response, instead of releasing the muscle, you body will make the muscle tighter. This can cause injury and is the opposite of what we want to accomplish.
How can you know if it is to much? By measuring your breath and facial expressions.
If you are able to breathe deeply and evenly and keep a relaxed face, you are in a good place.
As your muscle quality starts to improve you will be able to take more pressure with Self Massage. Often in these cases we step up to something with a little less give such as a PVC pipe or barbell.
On the other had if laying on a foam roller is to intense there are ways to make Self Massage less intense, such as softball against a wall.
Work at the level that is right for you and remember if the tools available are to easy you can still get a benefit from massaging. But if they are to advanced for you do not force yourself through it, find something else.
Move Slowly and Consciously Relax the Muscle.
It takes time for your muscles to relax, you cannot rush the process.
Each muscle will need a good block of time, because the main area affected by rolling is the area directly receiving the direct pressure. So it will take time to get to the entire muscle.
Mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett defines a therapeutic dosage of rolling as no less than 2 minutes for an area.
The best way to achieve this is a timer. Your sense of time is not as well developed as you think, especially when you are experiencing discomfort.
This trick also works well for brushing your teeth with should also take at least 2 minutes(1).
While you can have music, TV or an audio-book to entertain yourself while you do this, you can’t completely tune out. You need to pay attention to how it feels. That is the only way your muscles will relax. Remember your brain controls your muscles.
At first this will be difficult but with practice this will make Self Massage not only more effective, but also more enjoyable.
Use your Body Weight to Apply Pressure.
It is hard to press with enough pressure to give a good massage, especially for a long period of time. This a reason why Massage therapists need so much training and are strong individuals.
Luckily we have gravity, which can help us apply pressure.
The roller is designed as a tube so it can easily roll on the floor under you.
There are exceptions to this rule but in general we want the roller on the floor and you on top of it.
Now that we have gone over the principles lets go over some basic techniques.
Techniques are not specific exercises, they are ways of using the tool that are applicable to many exercises.
When rolling an area you might use just one technique, or multiple. Two minutes is a long time, and you can use multiple techniques. Different muscles will react differently to different techniques. Experiment and find which ones work for you.
There are many techniques out there, here are four of the best. Pressure Wave, Cross Fiber, Tack/Floss and Contract/Relax.
The idea behind a pressure wave is just to put a lot of pressure into the muscle and slowly move up and down the length of the muscle. This is the most basic and logical way to use the foam roller.
You want to run the length of the muscle in the same direction as the muscle fibers run (Parallel).
Don’t worry if you aren’t an anatomy expert, if you roll the long way on the muscle you will be right in almost every instance.
I want to emphasize consciously relaxing the muscle for this technique. It is easy to lose focus and get little to no change, because you zoned out.
In this technique you are going to use the foam roller to “saw’ the muscle open. This means moving side to side on the muscle so that you running across the fibers (Perpendicular).
In most instances the easiest way to do this will be to move your body back and forth (sideways) over the foam roller in a “see saw” type motion.
This technique is especially good for long tight muscles such as your Quads (front of thigh), Calves (back of lower leg) and back muscles.
Tack and Floss
This technique involves “tacking” a specific area of the muscle by applying direct pressure to it and then “flossing” by moving a using a joint that lengthens and shortens the muscle while that same area is tacked down.
This is especially useful where there is one specific spot on the muscle that needs more attention or just won’t release.
Contract and Relax
This advanced technique is extremely effective. You will need a high level of body awareness and muscular control to use correctly.
Often beginners don’t understand the instructions or can’t figure out what is supposed to happen.
Some one on one time with a qualified instruction will make learning this easier.
To perform this technique actively contract the muscle on a tight spot for a few seconds then release the contraction to fully relax the muscle. An exhale is necessary to fully relax the muscle.
One reason this works so effectively is because when we turn a muscle on first it can relax more completely afterwards. It “tricks” your body (really your brain which controls muscle tension) to break subconscious tension in the muscle.
Contract for 3-5 seconds (a breath hold is OK) then use a big exhale and release the tension in the muscle.
Some muscles are harder to contract than others. Sometimes using your environment can help.
For example when rolling your lats (muscles on the side of your upper back) if your arm is straight and on the ground you can contract the lat by pressing your hand into the floor.
Be patient and focus, this is an advanced technique.
You can use the foam roller on almost any muscle on your body.
It is much easier to see demonstrates than to read about it.
Check out this videos from my YouTube channel on how to roll specific muscles.
Shin (front of lower leg)
Calf (back of lower leg)
Quad (front of upper leg)
Hamstring (back of lower leg)
Glutes (But muscles)
Lats (side of back)
Pecs and shoulder (Chest)
Triceps (back of upper arm)
Biceps (front of upper arm)
Forearms (lower arm)
If you are rolling something and you suddenly lose feeling, or get electric shooting sensations stop rolling where you are rolling.
That is often a sign you are on a nerve. Nerves are easy to damage and slow to heal. Move to a different spot that is close by to release the spot you want.
The most important thing to remember about your foam roller is that is only works if you do it.
Many commercial gyms have foam rollers, but this is not the best place to use them. Unless you just love hanging out in the gym (like I do) you should be using your time in the gym to train.
But if you can make time to train and for Self Massage yourself then you should feel free to do both.
If you use Self massage at the gym is the best after a workout. The exception to this rule is where there is a injury or mobility restriction that we want to target before a workout. The way to know this is by specific evaluation and testing, which can be done by a Fitness Professional or Physical Therapist.
A better place to do your Self Massaging is at home, where you are not rushed for time and in an environment that you can relax.
Be careful if you have a dog, you might have to teach them that your rolling time is not their play time.
It is best if you can find 5-15 minutes every day to massage yourself, destress and help your body recover.
You don’t have do every area, just the ones that you personally need. If that means more than 15 minutes, you can either dedicate more time or use a rotating schedule. For example if you wanted to do all the exercises above you schedule might look like this
Sunday - Feet 2 mins each side, Calves 2 mins each side Shin 2 mins each side
Monday - Quads 2 mins each side, Hamstrings 2 mins each side, Glutes 2 mins each side
Tuesday - Lower Back 2 mins, Upper Back 4 mins, Lats 2 mins each side
Wednesday - Rib cage 2 min each side, Pec/Shoulder 2 mins each side Neck 4 mins
Thursday - Tricep 2 min each side, Bicep 2 mins each side, Forearms 2 mins each side
Friday - Wild card (Work whatever areas need the most work)
Sat - Off
Instead of using a concrete schedule you could also take it day by day and see what your body needs.
Sometimes you might need some extra Self Massage time, for example after a hard day of work or a tough workout.
While doing extra is a great idea, remember that one intense day does not make up for consistent small dosages. Just like brushing your teeth for 30 minutes on the weekend doesn’t make up for skipping it all week...
If you have any questions send me an email David@Magenfitness.com