5 Favorite Foam Roller Exercises - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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5 Favorite Foam Roller Exercises

Foam Roller

Foam rollers are popular these days and everyone wants one! You can find them in so many stores and there are so many different types of foam rollers. There are short ones, ½ rollers, longer ones that will allow you to lay on them completely, bumpy ones, soft ones, firm ones and more.

So, let’s talk about what all the hype is on foam rollers.

We commonly push through life with aches, pains, soreness and discomforts from day to day. Sometimes this comes about from starting a new exercise program, at times is from an injury, other times our symptoms just pop up out of nowhere (with no apparent explanation of WHY).

In living our lives and trying to provide our body with the most health to our tissues, we need to give our muscles what they need to thrive. Just like our bodies need water and food for optimal function, our muscles need blood flow for their best function. Blood flow allows oxygen to the tissues for them to work the way we need them to. Our muscles need that nutrition for healing from any injury or soreness, but also just to live each day at our strongest!

Most people want to be active, enjoy family time and be able to do any exercise that is important to them. How do we get that kind of great blood flow so that our muscles can work the way that we want them to ALL the time?

The first thing that people think about is massages! They are an awesome way to promote blood flow and circulation to our tissues. You can get the massage therapist to focus on a particular area of your body that needs the most attention. For more information on the best parts of massage and what it can bring to your life, read here https://www.breakawaypt.com/massage-the-new-year/

Now a foam roller is a self-massage or another way to look at a sports massage that you can do for yourself! They are another way to help promote circulation to your muscles. There are so many ways that they help your body…

  • Reduces inflammation in that area of the body
  • Improve circulation to the tissues
  • Decrease knots and tension in the muscles
  • Increase range of motion
  • Improve flexibility of your muscles
  • Promote better mobility along your joints
  • Help you relax – YAY!
  • Decrease pain you are experiencing
  • Break up scar tissue
  • Reduce muscle soreness after workouts
  • Shorten recovery times
  • Can use it as a workout tool
  • Improve postural alignment
  • Strengthen your core

Now that you are see all the amazing things that a foam roller can do, when would you use them?

Use foam rollers as a warm-up to the tissues to get that great circulation going and prepare your body for any activity. Also use them to improve length along the muscles after exercise or activity (cool down). This is a great tool to use even in the evening when you are winding down from your day and can roll out your muscles so that you have a great night’s sleep to start your next day at your best!

There are different types of foam rollers that are helpful for different people, different exercises that you can do on the foam roller and different challenges!

There are ½ and full foam rollers, which both have their benefit. A ½ foam roller will be easier to balance on but does not roll like a full foam roller back and forth. Meaning a ½ foam roller will just stay in one place for you to work on your posture, core strength and more. A full foam roller will allow you to roll back and forth smoothly to improve your muscle health. Both are great to have for home workouts.

Smooth foam rollers can provide even pressure to your muscles. They are able to promote the best benefits of a foam roller, but not as intense as the textured foam rollers. These can be used when your muscles are sensitive to pressure and when firm pressure makes your body tense (preventing all the benefits and positives that you are looking for).

Within smooth foam rollers, there are varying levels of firmness so that you can find the best match for your body! Start off with a soft one to see how your body does with the pressure, balancing and then make a decision on if your body needs more pressure in terms of the roller.

Textured foam rollers have ridges and bumps that will allow concentrated pressure to specific areas. This will allow a targeted approach to your muscles and areas that are very sore needing direct attention. Be careful to not overdo it with using this textured foam roller on one area for too long as to not cause soreness afterwards.

Shorter foam rollers are used to target specific muscles to roll back and forth. They are not meant for using them along your spine for postural alignment as they won’t go the whole way (from your bottom to your head)!

Longer foam rollers can be used along the spine, meaning you can lay on them from your head to your tailbone. This is best for postural alignment, strengthening your core and more. Our preference is a longer foam roller so that you can do all the exercises and challenges that you want, but some people prefer the shorter ones for travelling purposes.

Vibrating foam rollers are a newer item out there that combine the benefits of using a theragun (massage device used to treat muscle soreness and reduce pain) while using a foam roller. This will be more intense than the other foam rollers, but very beneficial for healing purposes. Make sure you try the more basic foam roller first before you jump into the vibrating foam roller so that you are positive your body is ready for it.

And one of my favorite rollers…the peanut roller! This one is amazing to get to some harder areas that a traditional foam roller may not be able to reach, such as along the muscle of your spine and the gluteals.

Now, let me show you 5 of my favorite ways to use a foam roller:


Foam Roller Exercise

1. Foam Roller Pec Stretch

Lay along the foam roller with your head to your bottom on the foam roller. You should feel it in contact with your spine everywhere except under your neck. Keep your knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground off the foam. Once you are balanced along the foam roller, put your arms out to the side so that you feel a stretch on the front of your chest in your pec muscles.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. This one is great to use at the end of the day to help align your spine and promote improved posture after a day of work being on a computer that brings your into a forward, rounded shoulder position.


Foam Roller Exercise

2. Foam Roller on the Gluts

Sit on the foam roller with your knees bent. Your hands will be behind your body for support. Roll along the gluteals back and forth to reduce all that tension from sitting too long throughout your day.

You can also sit more on one side of your bottom to increase the pressure and workout each side separately. Spend 3-5 minutes as your muscles tolerate as you release them.


Foam Roller Exercise

3. Calf Releases on the Foam Roller

Sit up with your hands on the ground behind you. Put the bottom of your legs on the foam roller so that your calves are in contact with it. Roll back and forth so that you release along the entire calf muscles.

If this is too intense, do one leg at a time with the other leg bent and planted on the ground.

Spend 3-5 minutes on both legs or 2.5 minutes on each as needed to roll out.


Foam Roller Exercise

4. Work your Core on the Foam Roller

Lay on the foam roller with it under your spine (like the first exercise), meaning you will feel it under your entire spine except under your neck. Keep your knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground off the foam.

Tighten your abdominal muscles, which you will feel the muscles engage under your fingers as they are on the inside of your hip bones. Keep these muscles tight, breathe and then march one leg up off the ground without losing the contraction. Slowly bring your foot back to the ground and switch sides.

Alternate one side and then the other marching while keeping your balance AND keeping your abdominals tight. Repeat 10 times on each side.

If this is too challenging for you to start with, dial it back just engaging your abdominals and balancing on the foam roller. Hold the abdominal contraction for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times.


Foam Roller Exercise

5. Peanut Roller for Muscles along the Spine

Put the peanut roller under your back so that it is in contact with your muscles, meaning the skinny part in the middle is not touching your spine. You can prop yourself on your hands or elbows to roll those muscles back and forth.

Spend 3-5 minutes as your muscles tolerate in each area of your spine (upper back, middle back and lower back).


This is just the start of foam rolling and ideas for you to use at home. If you are looking for more ideas and an individualized program made just for you, then we need to meet you! Here at Breakaway Physical Therapy, we value your time and want to make sure that the fit is best for everyone.

Call us for a FREE Breakthrough visit at 410-721-6333 so that you can sit down with our muscle experts to discuss how we can help you and create the best exercise program for you!

Can’t wait to help you roll it all out!


Shaina Clemons

Shaina Clemons

Shaina is the founder and owner of Breakaway Physical Therapy.  She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore, along with a Bachelor's degree from Towson University.   Shaina is an Ironman triathlete, with a love of all sports. Exercise is her passion, which plays an important role in both her personal and professional life.  In her free time, Shaina enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.  Shaina's love of snowboarding led her to her career choice many years ago. 
Shaina Clemons

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