Foam Rolling: Are You Doing it Wrong?

Water tracking bottle,  Ozmo cup  | Shirt,  Lululemon  (similar) | Leggings,  Athleta  | Shoes,  Adidas  | 

Water tracking bottle, Ozmo cup | Shirt, Lululemon (similar) | Leggings, Athleta | Shoes, Adidas

During my first week of my personal training class, one of the things I learned was how to foam roll properly. And guess what? It turns out I had been doing it all wrong before. I mean, really, wrong. 

Like many people, I thought foam rolling was only done after workouts and on rest days. So, you can image how surprised I was to learn that foam rolling can also be beneficial if done BEFORE working out! 

Foam rolling before working out can improve your range of motion, which helps you perform better. It is especially important to do on muscles that are overactive.

What are overactive muscles? 

An overactive muscle is one that is stronger than the muscle that is opposite it. When a muscle is stronger, it often takes over and does the work instead of the weaker muscle that is supposed to do the work. 

Having overactive muscles usually prevents you from performing exercises with proper form, which makes you more prone to injury. Common overactive muscles include your calves, adductors, quads, hamstrings and lats. 

When muscles are overactive, they have knots that cause them to be very tight or inflexible. Thankfully, foam rolling properly can help release these knots, which helps your muscles regain flexibility. When your muscles are flexible, they stop overacting, and you can perform exercises correctly. 

While foam rolling is beneficial to do before a workout, you can also do it after a workout. 


So, what's the proper way to foam roll?

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has done this, but I always thought you were supposed to foam roll by rolling up and down the muscle for a few seconds. This method is wrong, don't do it like this! 

To properly foam roll, you want to roll slowly up the muscle until you find a knot. You'll know it's a knot because the spot will hurt. Once you find it, hold that spot and apply pressure using your body weight. Do not move the roller. You need to hold this position for 30 seconds for the knot to properly release. If you can't find a knot, that muscle does not need to be rolled. 

See the images and explanations below for how to roll specific muscles. 



Position the foam roller under your calf and use your arms to hold yourself up off the ground. Cross your ankle over the one that is on the roller. Slowly roll up your calf until you find a knot. Hold for 30 seconds. If the pressure is too much, uncross your ankles. You might find more than one knot, so be sure to foam roll each one. Switch to do the other leg once you finish. 



While face down, position the roller under your quads. Use your arms to support your body as if in plank position. Slowly roll up and down your quads until you find a knot. Hold for 30 seconds. You can do both quads at the same time or do each individually. 



Turn the foam roller so that it is vertical. Keep a similar position you did for quads except bend one leg to form a 90-degree angle. Find a knot and hold for 30 seconds. Switch to do the other leg. 



Position the roller below your bum and use your hands to support your weight. Cross your leg over the other one and roll to find a knot. This one can be a bit harder to find a knot, so you might need to roll a little to the sides to find it. After holding the knot for 30 seconds, switch legs to do the other side. 


While on your side, position the foam roller below your armpit. Once you find a knot, hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side. 


IT band

Turn on your side, straighten your leg, and position the roller below your hip. Use your arms and other leg to support your body. Find the knot and hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg. 

Outer leg muscles

While on your side, stack your legs and position the roller underneath them so that the side of your leg is on the roller. Slowly roll until you find a knot, then hold for 30 seconds. Switch to the other side. 


Holding the knot will hurt a bit, but you should stop if it becomes too painful. If this happens, try using a softer roller. On the contrary, if you aren't feeling enough pressure, use a harder roller or try a small hard ball, like a lacrosse ball. 

Once you finish rolling, stretch the muscles you rolled to encourage further flexibility. If your muscles are extra tight, you can foam roll daily!  

Some things to remember: 

  • Only foam roll MUSCLES, never bones, tendons, or anything that's not a muscle 
  • Don't roll too fast. This won't help release the muscle 
  • Relax your muscles, don't tense up! 
  • If it is too painful, apply less pressure or try using a softer roller 
  • Avoid foam rolling over varicose veins. This can be dangerous 
  • Avoid foam rolling if you are pregnant unless OK'd by your doctor 


*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or certified fitness professional. The above information is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult a doctor and certified personal trainer before doing any physical activity. 



Clark, Micheal, Scott Lucett, and Brian G. Sutton. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. 1st ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2014. Print.

McGill, Erin A., and Ian Montel. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 5th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2017. Print.

Mikaela PorazzoComment