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5 Foam Roller Exercises That Improve Performance

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5 Foam Roller Exercises That Improve Performance

Foam roller exercises are a fantastic, inexpensive way to increase mobility and performance, prevent injuries, and eliminate nagging muscle pains.

 

Foam rolling used to be a mysterious, “experimental” technique used solely by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists, its ultimate effectiveness unproven.

Well, thanks to years of technique development, and a bit of recent clinical research, foam rolling has become a common practice for people at all levels of fitness, and for good reason.

For just $20 – 40 and 5 – 10 minutes of your time, a few days per week, you can use foam rolling to dramatically improve mobility and thus range of motion, to reduce the risk of injury, and to remove pains that you might be experiencing while you put your body through certain motions.

In this article, I want to explain a bit of why foam rolling works, and 5 of my favorite foam rolling exercises for supporting my weightlifting routine.

How Foam Rolling Works

In fancy-speak, foam rolling is a “self-myofascial release” method that relaxes overactive muscles that are preventing proper activation and motion.

To understand self-myofascial release, let’s break it down:

Myo- is a prefix meaning “muscle,” and fascia is a soft, fibrous tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, allowing for mobility while providing support and protection.

Thus, self-myofascial release simply refers to a way whereby you can release tension in the fascia surrounding your muscles, and the muscles themselves.

You see, fascia can become overly tight through overuse, injury, and even inactivity. The result is inflammation, pain, muscle tension, reduction of blood flow, and loss of mobility, and if the problem becomes severe or prolonged, the fascia can actually thicken, causing pain and further inflammation.

Now, mechanically speaking, foam rolling is very simple.

You position your body in certain ways on a foam cylindrical tube to put pressure on trigger points, which are tight spots in muscles that, when pressed on, produce pain that refers to other areas in the body (can be felt in areas other than where you’re applying pressure) . 

By holding pressure on these trigger points, your body will gradually relax the areas, causing the pain to fade. This is known as releasing trigger points.

“Relaxation” is underselling the benefits of foam rolling, though. It can actually make quite a difference in your training.

The Benefits of Foam Roller Exercises

When you release fascial and muscular tightness, inflammation and pain diminish, and blood flow is restored.

While this might “sound nice,” it actually means a lot for us fitness folk. 

For example, a study conducted by Memorial University of Newfoundland found that foam rolling increases range of motion without decreasing strength (which is a problem with pre-workout stretching).

The greater the range of motion in an exercise, the more work your muscles have to do, which in turn leads to great gains in strength and size. And due to the fact that it doesn’t impair performance, you can foam roll before a workout to prime your body for the training.

A study conducted by Osaka Aoyama University found that foam rolling reduces arterial stiffness and thus improves blood flow.

Better blood flow means better removal of metabolic waste from tissues and better delivery of nutrients, which ultimately helps with muscle repair.

We can see these effects in a study that demonstrated that foam rolling reduces the severity of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that occurs after training, and increases range of motion.

So, as you can see, regular foam rolling over longer periods of time can actually make quite a difference in the results you get out of your training.

My 5 Favorite Foam Roller Exercises

There are a wide variety of foam roller exercises that you can do, but here are my top 5.

You can perform these exercise pre-workout to improve performance, or post-workout to improve recovery, or both.

In terms of time, I like to spend a couple minutes on each, finding and releasing 1 – 2 trigger points for each muscle group.

Iliotibial Tract (IT Band) Foam Roller Exercise

The “IT Band” runs along the outer side of your leg, and its associated muscles are involved in various hip movements, and the stabilization of the knees.

it-band

Regular proper squatting will often create trigger points in the IT Band, which in turn impair range of motion and performance.

Here’s how to foam roll the IT Band:

Hamstring Foam Roller Exercise

Tight hamstrings are a curse for squatting and deadlifting, and foam rolling can really help.

Here’s how to do it:

Quadriceps Foam Roller Exercise

Trigger points in the quadriceps can insidiously affect your squatting.

I had this problem recently and the affected quadriceps couldn’t contract properly, which transferred more of the load to the various smaller stabilizing muscles in my hip. This caused excessive soreness in my hip muscles, which kept me from being able to progress.

Use the following foam roller exercise to avoid this problem:

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Rhomboids Foam Roller Exercise

The rhomboids (major and minor) are back muscles that connect your shoulder blades with your spine, and are activated to retract the shoulder blades.

rhomboids

The rhomboids not only get hit hard when we train back, they can get quite stiff from sitting all day (especially with bad posture).

The following rhomboid foam roller exercise is a great way to release tension in these muscles:

Latissimus Dorsi Foam Roller Exercise

You probably know the latissimus dorsi, or “lat,” but here it is in case you don’t:

lattisimus-dorsi

This is another muscle primarily targeted in back training, and thus it often develops trigger points.

Here’s the foam roller exercise for it:

Buying a Foam Roller

A good foam roller is moderately dense–if the foam is too soft, you can’t apply enough pressure; if it’s too hard, you can wind up bruising yourself, causing too much trauma to the trigger point areas.

Here are the two foam rollers I like and recommend:

High-Density Foam Roller

A good high-density foam roller is cheap and gets the job done. Can’t go wrong.

foam-roller

Rumble Roller

rumble-rollerThe Rumble Roller products are another great option.

Although a Rumble Roller is more expensive than the simple high-density roller, I like it quite a bit more. It’s more forgiving (the harder the roller, the less pressure you can apply before it begins to really hurt) and the knobs are great for working out tight spots.

I like the original density (blue) best.

Trigger Point Performance “The Grid” Foam Roller

What I like about this fancy-looking foam roller is the different surfaces of the grid layout let you apply different amounts and types of pressure on trigger points, which can sometimes be tricky to find and target for release.

trigger-point-foam-roller

 

 

 What did you think of this article? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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  • elkie

    thanks for this article, I bought a foam roller one month ago, hasn’t been used as I don’t have a clue what to do with it! lol watching the videos I am going to start implementing it now!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Ah yeah start using it. You’ll be surprised how much it can help!

  • mdringler

    Mike, do you ever use a lacrosse ball in certain areas for a more targeted approach? Are there any specific exercises from supple leopard that you really like? Thanks in advance,
    Michael

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup I like my lacrosse ball for that. Hmm I’ve kind of hobbled together my mobility routine together from a variety of sources and don’t have the book on me at the office, but I really focus on my legs, hips, and back.

  • BrettL

    Bought a longer one (about 1.5m) a few months back, it has been the best thing for DOMS (as per your article). I find it also helps running it parallel to your body and work from your spine out on each side (esp for the Rhomboids).

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice! Glad to hear it.

  • Josey

    I have a love/hate relationship with foam rolling. I work at a PT clinic and we have a billion foam rollers at my disposal. Foam rolling is totally under rated. Tennis balls/ golf balls are pretty awesome, too. I like to use those for trigger points in my neck and shoulder blades. Great article, Mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Haha, yeah balls are great too. Lacrosse balls work particularly well.

  • Anthony Pampillonio

    Hey Mike thanks for another great article. I’m gonna try this seeing I have alot of pain that hopefully this will help with. When ordering the trigger point do you suggest the 13″ or the grid 2.0 26″? Does size matter? lol thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! It will definitely help.

      Haha I use a bigger one but there’s nothing wrong with the smaller. It works equally well (I just like the bigger for my rhomboids mainly).

      • Anthony Pampillonio

        Thanks again.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW 🙂

  • Keith

    Great/timely article Mike. I have been using a triggerpoint roller since the start of the year to help with IT band/hams/glute pain/tightness (and to cut down on sports massage visits/costs!). It really does help. Not just in the gym but day to day life in general. I also use a large plastic dog ball to losen/massage the glutes as struggle with tightness and pain there as well.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Keith! I’ve been doing the same and am really happy with the results.

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  • Venkat

    Hi Mike… I can’t see the videos on the iPhone/ipad and hence can you fix it?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yikes sorry about that. Yes I will have my Web guy check it out.

  • Toni

    I really don’t like to foam roll because I find it to be tedious. Yet I find when I skip it, I definitely feel the difference.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah it is a bit tedious, and painful, but it really helps.

  • Nic

    Great article Mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Nic!

  • Adriana

    Oooh! I gotta get me one of these! I couldn’t work out for 4 days last week because of a debilitating pain starting in the back of my neck and shooting down under my shoulder blade, severely restricting my ability to turn my head and move my arm. After reading this article, I strongly suspect I had a kink in my rhomboid.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah they rock!

      Arg sorry to hear that. I bet rolling can help. A massage would be a good idea too.

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  • Jay

    Been rolling for 2 months. First couple times was painful. I have been doing the IT band, quads, hamstrings, and piriforumis muscle. Trigger points have gone away and my tightness has released. Since I read your article am going to hit what you recommended. I roll before and after my work outs. Helped me tremendously. Thanks for expanding my rolling.

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome Jay, I’ve had the same experience. Keep up the good work.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Ivo Naves

    What do you think is more efficient for lifters, doing rumble roller or plain mobility exercises?

    • Both TBH. Together they can help a lot.

      • Ivo Naves

        Please re-upload the link to the videos! The videos are not appearing.

        • Hmm. Not sure what’s going on. They’re loading fine over here!

          Try another browser and/or device. LMK how it goes.

          • Ivo Naves

            Ah… they’re not working on my Chrome but they do on Safari.

          • Well I’m glad they work on Safari for you!

            I’ll look into what’s happening with Chrome.

  • Mark Harman

    I use the Atlas foam roller. It is a new foam roller on the market that defiantly out performs the current pvc pipe roller craze. http://Www.atlasfoamroller.com

  • Lee

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for these videos. I recently got a few different rollers (short, long, textured, etc.). Holy heck it’s made a difference for me! No idea I had so many sore trigger points. Everything seems to be loosening up more now and squats / deadlifts are progressing again.

    One issue I still have is a very tight / sore right adductor longus. I’ve been doing the super squat stretch from another blog of yours, both before and after squats / DL, but it continues to stay tight and sore longer than any other muscle or tendon involved in the moves. I guess I could have a tear that I keep aggravating, but other than an extended deload couple of weeks or God forbid complete rest; anything else you can suggest?

  • ♥*~sweetiepie~*♥,

    I like rolling

  • Thanks Mike this looks like a great idea. It could be especially useful for my right rhomboid which spams when I am under stress. But also for the other muscles. Deffo gonna give it a try!

  • Jon

    Hi Mike,

    For some reason none of the videos on this article are loading on safari, chrome, firefox nor iPhone. I just see blank spaces.

    I thought maybe something was up from my end but videos loaded for others articles you have.

    Might you have a fix to view or the direct links to the vids for this article?

    Thank you

    • Jon

      oh, looks like the videos are loading now, sweet!!

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