You might have seen people at the gym rolling around on what looks like a pool toy. What they’re probably doing is a self-massage of the iliotibial band –– a thick band on the outside of the leg.  And while this is a great therapeutic technique, there is actually SO much more that you can do with a foam roller, and we want to show you a few of your options.

The foam roller that we’re using in these pictures is 6” x 36” and is a firm (non-deforming) foam.  This simple piece of equipment is very powerful and can be used for a number of applications.  In the following pictures, we’ll review three different ways you can use the foam roller as part of your exercise program.

Stretch Over the Foam Roller

The shape of the roller allows for the body to drape over it to stretch hard-to-reach muscles and joints.

Stretching Pectorals over the foam roller

Rolling across your spine

Massage tight muscles

A foam roller is also a great tool for self-massage.  You can use the roller and your own body weight to put pressure on your deep muscle tissues.  If you find a tight spot, take your time and see if you can roll deeper into the muscle until it releases. This is not necessarily comfortable, but it should not painful.  Try to relax into the movement so the tight spots will release.  If you find a very tight/tender spot, stay on it for 20-30 seconds to see if you can get the area to release. If you would like the rolling to be a little less intense, put the roller on your bed, so it will give with the soft surface.  Make sure you engage your abdominal muscles to protect your back while doing these exercises.  These are just a couple of examples – you can roll on any muscle or tissue that you feel is tight – so get creative!!

Quadriceps muscles

Piriformis muscles

More challenging core stabilization exercises

Core stabilization exercises on the foam roller are much more challenging than on the floor, because it is an unstable surface.  It is much more difficult to keep the pelvis and spine in neutral when the foam roller can move underneath you.