There are a variety of different foam roller exercises that one can do, and choosing the correct stretch or exercise is ultimately dependent upon the muscle group that one wishes to massage. Our list is by no means comprehensive, but it should provide a good foundation for those new to foam rolling, as well as a few warnings. We’ve broken down the some of the best foam roller exercises for beginners based upon the main muscle groups being worked. Click the clicks to check out each.
Foam Roller Exercises by Muscle Group
- Gluteus Maximus
- Gluteus Medius
- Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
- Hip Flexor
- Iliotibial (IT) Bands
- Upper Back
Foam rolling your glutes is a quick and easy process. First you need to sit down on top of your foam roller, which is preferably on top of a yoga mat for a little extra padding. For support, you’ll place both hands onto the yoga mat behind you. Slightly bend both knees to about a 45 degree angle, keeping your feet on the ground. Now, using your right hand, place your left ankle onto your right knee. Then place your right hand onto your right thigh. You’re now in position! Slowly roll your left buttocks on the foam roller, and maintain the pressure for 20-30 seconds. That’s it! Switch sides once complete. Here’s a video showing the whole process:
While you’re getting the gluteus maximus, it’s really easy to also hit the gluteus medius muscle. It’s the same basic positioning: sitting on top of your foam roller, with your hands behind you for support. This time, put one leg out straight, with the other bend 90 degrees to support your weight. Lean slightly to the side of the leg that’s out straight, isolating that gluteus muscle, and roll gently. Lean even more to that side to really isolate the gluteus medius muscle. An excellent example can be seen in the following video.
Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
The tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscles are in the front sides of your hips. Foam rolling these muscles will give a deep and effective sports massage, alleviating soreness and improving performance. It might be one of the slightly stranger looking stretches on a foam roller, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the relief that this stretch give you! To massage the TFL, start by laying face-down, with your foam roller just underneath the front of one hip. Your other leg should be cocked slightly to the side, similar to a spiderman pushup. You should use your forearms to help bear some of the weight, and keep your core tight throughout the stretch. Next, roll along the front and slightly outside part of your upper thigh, right below your pelvis. That’s it! Roll slowly, and hold for 20-30 second before repeating on the other side. Here’s a great video showing the proper form:
Sore hip flexors can be a real nuisance to athletes, especially runners. Nothing is worse than trying to run with sore or tight hip flexors, every step becomes a pain. Relief is in sight though, as long as you have a foam roller. Foam rolling the hip flexor is fairly similar to the TFL; however, the TFL stretch is higher on the hip, whereas the hip flexor stretch is a little lower underneath the actual hips. First, lie face down on top of your roller, with the roller at the top of your right hip flexor. Put your arms on the ground in front of you for support, then cant your left leg out to the side with a 90 degree bend. Extend your right leg behind you, with the right foot extended, toes pointing out and flat against the ground. Now slowly roll back and forth, with a little right-to-left movement as well, until you find a trigger point. Continue for 20-30 seconds, focusing on any trigger point for about 10 seconds, then switch sides. The video below shows the proper form, and also highlights a few common mistakes:
The adductors are a group of muscles on the inside of the thigh. They originate in the hip, going down to the femur, and are primarily responsible for squeezing the thighs together, while also aiding in rotation and flexion of the thigh. A strained adductor muscle is sometimes called a groin strain, and can vary in severity from a dull ache to sharp pain. Adductors can become strained after intense physical exercise, but foam rolling your adductors is a great way to work out those knots and kinks.
Amongst the various foam roller exercises, getting the adductors can be a little awkward and difficult at first. What we’ve described below is a fairly basic adductor exercise. The position for this exercise is very similar to foam rolling the hip flexor, we’re going to use the “spiderman pushup”-esque pose, or another way to look at it, what your body might look like if you’re doing a low crawl. Place your foam roller on the ground, and lie atop it (face down) with one leg canted to the side. The foam roller should be under the thigh of the canted leg. Now, using the hand opposite the canted leg for support, gently roll the roller from your pelvis down to your knee, then back. Again, this sounds fairly difficult and is a little awkward to describe…watching a video is much easier. Check out the video below for proper form.
Iliotibial (IT) Bands
The iliotibial bands, or IT bands, can often become tight and sore, especially in runners. This is called IT Band Syndrome. Many websites, friends, and even some sports physiologists will say that you can use a foam roller on your IT bands to alleviate these symptoms. However, this is simply not true. Foam rolling the IT bands can actually be the cause of your pain! If you have sore IT bands, please check out Don’t Foam Roll Your IT Bands, as well as this excellent video below.
Tight calves used to be a pretty common problem for me, especially after running. Making matters worse, once calves become tight, the thigh muscles have to work harder to compensate, which can stress the patellar tendon and cause knee pain. Luckily, foam rolling the calves is one of the easiest foam roller exercises that you can do!
There are multiple variations for foam rolling the calves, including doing it one leg at a time or both legs simultaneously. This description is for both legs at once, however check out the video below for information on the various other techniques. To start, place your foam roller in the ground and sit down behind it, with your calves on top of the roller. Place your hands behind you, then using them as support, gently lift your buttocks off the ground so that your weight it supported by your hands and the foam roller under your calves. Now gently roll back and forth, looking for areas that are more tender. If one leg has more tightness than the other, you can focus on this leg more. To increase the weight and pressure (and thus the myofascial release), cross your legs at the ankles so that the sore leg is still in contact with the roller, but underneath the good leg.
The quadriceps, or quads, are a group of four muscles in the front of the thigh. They influence movement of the knee, and can become sore after running, jumping, or weight training. Sore quads can, over time, lead to movement issues and even ACL issues.
Like other foam roller exercises, there are a few variations for foam rolling your quads. The most basic goes like this. Set your roller on the ground, and lay face down on top of it, with the roller located perpendicular to, and underneath, your quads. Bend your arms, and place your weight onto your forearms. It should look like you’re doing a plank, with the weight distributed between your forearms and the foam roller under your quads. For the two-leg variation, just simply start rolling back and forth, so that the roller goes from your pelvis to just above your knee. If you want to really focus on each quad, you can lift one leg at a time from the roller. Here’s a quick video showing the proper technique.
Upper back issues are common in a massive number of people around the world, and especially those who are sedentary or have to sit for extended periods of time. Foam rolling your back is one of the easiest foam roller exercises, and one of the most intuitive. To begin, place the foam roller on the ground and lie down on top of it, with the roller underneath your shoulder blades. Bend your legs 90 degrees, keeping your feet on the ground. Place your hands behind your head, then lift with your feet so that your weight is supported by your feet and the roller. Keeping your back straight, and core tight, slowly roll up and down on the foam roller. Don’t let the roller go past your shoulders, to avoid putting too much pressure on your neck. An excellent demonstration can be seen below.
The latissimus dorsi muscle, or the lats for short, is a large triangle shaped muscle in your back. The lats are what allow us to do pullups, and also swim. Even if you don’t do those two activities though, you might notice that you have tight lats. For example, when reaching into tall cupboards or loading your suitcase into the overhead compartment before a flight. If you think your lats are tight, there are some foam roller exercises that might help alleviate some of that tightness.
To foam roll your lats, you’re going to lie on your side, with the foam roller under your armpit. The bottom arm should be extended out, forming a line with the rest of your body. Now, start rolling your lats very slightly. This is a small motion, don’t let the roller go too far down your side. The video below gives some excellent notes on form for this exercise.