How to Use a Foam Roller + 4 Key Moves

Meet the foam roller, your workout’s new best friend.

It’s been 24 hours since my last HIIT workout, and it feels as though every muscle in my body is retracting in protest. I definitely didn’t stretch enough…rushed through my cool-down as usual (why am I always in such a rush to leave the gym?!). I’m consistently guilty of not taking enough time to stretch post-workout, and I end up paying for it with tight muscles and sore limbs. Turns out, my aversion to thoroughly rolling out my body is affecting more than my muscles — I’m missing out on the mental benefits, too. Recent studies have shown that proper stretching and rolling with a foam roller post-workout also eases stress and anxiety and relieves back issues — important for those of us who commute and/or spend too much time behind a desk (hi, that’d be me). Foam rolling even boasts many of the same benefits as meditation, and frankly, a little meditation post-workout sounds pretty great to my over-active brain. So while I made a pledge to amp up my gym routine this month, I also vowed to take more time to stretch and roll things out. I began by adding in a few foam rolling sessions each week, with one dedicated session each Saturday, along with paying closer attention to stretching out my body after each workout. And the difference has been pretty remarkable.

For those of us who have a difficult time slowing down or sitting still, foam rolling brings awareness to the body and mind through thoughtful action. Unlike a quick and dirty stretch session — you know, a stretch to the hamstrings there, maybe some attention paid to your triceps — foam rolling requires a bit more balance, commanding thought and concentration as you use the roller to ply and knead each muscle group. Along with helping to speed up recovery time post-workout, foam rolling also assists in massaging out our fascia, or connective tissue, which can become hardened and is responsible for those knots you feel in your back after a particularly tense day. If you’re new to foam rolling, the four moves below will get you started on your way to muscle recovery. As you perform each set, be sure to breathe deeply and relax, foam rolling isn’t the most comfortable practice, but you’ll leave your workout feeling flexible and strong, and your muscles won’t be screaming 24 hours later.

Upper and Low Back

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Why: If you’ve ever felt tension in your back or have a tendency to slump. This move is for all you commuters and fellow desk workers out there.

How: With the foam roller behind you, place your fingers behind your head to support your head and neck. Starting at your shoulders, use your feet to propel yourself slowly back, moving the foam roller up and down your back and being sure to keep your back straight and your abs and glutes engaged.

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Glutes

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Why: Tight or sore glute muscles can cause pain elsewhere in your body. Rolling out your glutes not only releases tension in those muscles, but can ease knee and lower pack pain as well.

How: With your right leg over your left knee, sit on the foam roller. Focusing your pressure on the right hip, place your hand on the floor and roll front to back. Switch sides and repeat.

Ankles & Calves

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Why: Tight calves and ankles can make exercise difficult, and just impede everyday movement.

How: With your legs stretched out in front of you, place your ankles over the roller and lift through your arms. Starting at your ankles, roll up through the calves to your knee and reverse.

IT Band

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Why: Your IT (Iliotibial) band is actually a series of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee, and can be a source of pain, especially for runners and sprinters.

How: Lie on your left side with your right leg bent in front of you and your left hip resting on the roller. Roll the side of your right leg through the knee. Switch sides and repeat.

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