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Road To Recovery: How To Use A Foam Roller

Photo: Rogue Fitness

It may look like a short noodle for a kid’s play pit, but a foam roller can bring your body back from the dead. Okay, maybe it’s not that miraculous, but it does help you tremendously in revitalizing and relaxing your muscles, especially after a strenuous lifting routine or a demanding sparring session.

For those who follow a fit lifestyle and work out several times a week, as well as others who are just starting to go down a healthy path, recovery is critical for your muscles to rebuild and grow. The knowledge of using a foam roller for the different muscles you break down every workout will help you re-energize and hit the gym hard the next day. Fitness is all about balance, so we can’t go 100 miles an hour without taking a break and implementing active recovery. Since the foam roller is the most simple and versatile fitness recovery tool you can get, we’ve decided to give you a breakdown on how to use one for some of the all-star muscles of the body. But, before we get into it, we need to talk about safety.


Before We Get Started

Using a foam roller is very beneficial to your health and your fitness goals, but be aware of adding anything new to your routine. Learn about your body and get in touch with your doctor if anything hurts persistently or feels more painful than normal. A foam roller is perfect for soothing normal wear-and-tear of your muscles, but make sure you’re not using it to treat anything more serious. And remember, using your body weight and pressure properly will make your foam rolling sessions more productive.

Upper Body

Heavy Lifters

The upper part of your body goes through plenty of motions at the gym or while playing a variety of sports. We’ll be concentrating on rolling out your arms, particularly your latissimus (lats) and your back. The lats connect your lower back to your arms, allowing for joint extension and rotation. Your lats are the largest muscle in the upper part of your body and they work overtime, along with your back, taking on plenty of stress when lifting weights.


Lie down on your side and place the foam roller right under your armpit and stack your knees and feet on top of each other or bend your bottom leg at a 90° angle for more support. Extend the arm you’re massaging away from your body and above your head, and keep your other arm on the ground in front of you for some stability. Make sure you keep your weight on the foam roller and your feet. Try to avoid using any other body parts to hold yourself up to get maximum efficiency from the massage. Roll up and down on your lat muscle right below your shoulder blade slowly and firmly. Keep in mind you don’t need to roll down your entire side, as the motion should be small and concentrated to the sore area. You can even pause the roll on a tender spot of the lat to reduce any discomfort. Do this several times for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat it on the other side.


Rolling your back is the most common way to use a foam roller, but we’ll give you some pointers on how to perfect your technique. Set the foam roller underneath your upper back and cross your arms to extend your shoulder blades. Your legs should be bent with your feet set on the floor, as you are lying on top of the foam roller. Lift your hips up from the ground to place most of your weight onto the trusty recovery tube. From there, you can roll back and forth for about 30 seconds. You can roll out the length of your back or concentrate on a certain area using shorter movements. You can even shift your weight to one side to target certain back muscles giving you some problems. Always keep your core tight and your feet on the ground while massaging your back with a foam roller.

Middle Body

Power Players

Perhaps the most overworked muscles in the middle of your body are your quadriceps (quads) and hamstrings. If you’re into CrossFit, weight training, clocking in miles with marathons, running pick-up games on the hardwood, or even throwing down in MMA, your quads and hamstrings will take a beating. The quads assist you with the movement of your knees and if they’re constantly sore, you might develop ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) issues. Your hamstrings allow you to bend your knees and move your hips backward so they’re pretty important, too. So, let’s get into how you can help your thigh muscles recover, shall we?


There are a variety of ways to foam roll your quads, but we’re going to stick to the most basic, effective option. Place your foam roller on the ground and lay face down right on top of it like you’re doing a plank with the roller right underneath your quads. Both of your arms should be bent at a 90° angle with your forearms touching the floor, bracing your weight. All you have to do now is roll back and forth, allowing the roller to go from your pelvis to right above your knee. If you want to focus on one quad at a time, you can lift one leg up. However, be careful, as this requires a bit of balance and grace on your part. As usual, do this foam rolling massage for at least 20 seconds.


Sit on the ground, extend one leg, and position the foam roller so it’s right underneath the thigh of your straightened leg. Bend the opposite leg and plant your foot on the ground for support. For further stability, place your hands right behind you or off to the sides. Lift your hips off the ground and use your arms for support, shifting the weight of your extended leg onto the foam roller. Then you can move the foam roller from right below the hip to the back of your knee, and vice versa, for about 20 to 30 seconds to help loosen your hamstrings. Repeat everything on the opposite leg and you’ll be good to go.

Lower Body

Pillars Of Strength

Some of the most critical areas of the lower section of your body are your calves and feet. If your calves tighten up or cramp, they’ll cause the thigh muscles to work overtime to compensate for them, and in turn, place unwanted stress on your knees. Obviously, you know how important your feet are, as there are 26 bones within each foot to provide structural support and several muscles that are attached to or affect your feet in some way. Needless to say, self-massaging your calves and feet is crucial to keeping yourself in the fitness game.


The simplest way to roll out your calves is to do so one at a time. Similar to the hamstring technique, you’ll be sitting on the ground with one leg extended and the other bent with your foot flat on the ground. But this time, the foam roller will be sitting right under the calf of your extended leg. Place your hands right behind you for support and lift your hips off the ground and roll your calf gently back and forth. If you want more pressure for a deeper massage, extend your bent leg and place it across the top of your target leg and continue the calf recovery technique. As usual, about 30 seconds is all you need before switching to the other calf muscle.


It’s typically overlooked but self-massaging your feet with a foam roller is a must because the plantar fascia, which is the connective tissue running from your heel to the base of your toes, can be overloaded during workouts. Foam rolling your feet is the most simple technique, but we’re going to go over some finer details to make sure you get the most out of your simple recovery tool. You’re not going to want to surf on the foam roller, so make sure you massage one foot at a time. Standing up, place one foot on the roller and move it back and forth slowly, occasionally holding pressure on certain areas of the foot that ache more to alleviate pain. In addition to rocking your foot back and forth, also try moving them from side-to-side. Lean into the foot on the foam roller a bit more for added pressure. Dedicated runners should roll their feet before and after each training session.

Roll Out

Recovery Tubes To Consider

The fitness market is full of foam rollers of all shapes and sizes, so it can be tricky choosing one to fit your needs. We’ve gathered a handful of some of the best foam rollers out there so you can have some direction in choosing the self-recovery fitness tool that’s right for you.

Rolling With It Foam Roller

The Rolling With It Foam Roller is simple, but effective, and made from professional grade premium eco-friendly EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate). Get a deeper, more intense massage for exemplary muscle recovery, increasing your strength and balance with this reliable foam roller. The foam roller comes in three sizes: 36 inches, 18 inches, and 13 inches.

Purchase: $19

Rogue Fitness Foam Roller

Constructed with EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) foam, the Rogue Fitness Foam Roller is durable, delivering excellent deep tissue therapy. Whether you choose the standard or ultra firm option, you’ll get a reliable foam roller that will hold its shape for plenty of post-workout sessions. Grab this American-made self-massaging tool and roll the pain away.

Purchase: $22

TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller

TriggerPoint’s Grid Foam Roller replicates the feeling of a massage therapist’s hands with its proprietary ‘Distrodensity’ zones. Roll out your knots and kinks to improve your mobility and prevent energy, promoting the healthy flow of blood and oxygen. The hollow core foam roller is hand-wrapped in EVA foam, making it firmer than traditional rollers.

Purchase: $27

LuxFit Foam Roller

Whether you’re using it for physical therapy, deep tissue massage, or myofascial release, LuxFit’s foam roller will serve you well. Made with molded polypropylene foam technology, this firm foam roller is perfect for bringing your muscles back to life. Built in the USA, this recovery tool also repels liquids so it won’t hold your sweat when you use it after a workout.

Purchase: $28

Monument Phenom Vibrating Foam Roller

A bit fancier than the rest, this high-tech foam roller has three vibration settings backed by scientific research to help re-energize your muscles. It has a wide foam rolling surface compared to the standard design and can support up to 250 lbs. On a full charge, you can use Monument Phenom’s Vibrating Foam Roller for up to three hours. It’s also super portable with a built-in carry handle so you can take it anywhere for a quick recovery routine.

Purchase: $140

Revive Mode: 15 Best Fitness Recovery Products

Now that you know how to use a foam roller, it’s time to check out several other recovery products out there to keep your body fresh. Take a look at our choices for the 15 best fitness recovery products available.