The Lowdown on Foam Rolling

I admit it, I love to workout, but I absolutely do not love to put in the necessary time in between workouts to stretch and foam roll. It’s just a bit tedious and a lot boring. But at the end of last year I found myself injured and unable to properly workout for more than 6 weeks. I was lucky enough to be looked at by one of the best physiotherapists in the country – he treats some of Team GB so you know he knows what he’s talking about – and he informed me that I have a lot of imbalances and muscle tension and that my injury could have been much less debilitating, or even prevented entirely, if I wasn’t so lapse with my post-workout routine. Well that told me, I shall never neglect the cylindrical shaped foam again.

Foam rolling gym selfie. It's didactic so it's okay. Serious face is not required for effective rolling.
Foam rolling gym selfie. It’s didactic so it’s okay. Serious face is not required for effective rolling.

I think most of us have heard of foam rollers by now, or at least noticed the multi-coloured rolls knocking about unused in the corners of our gyms.  If you’re also prone to skipping foam rolling now is the time to use them!

Why Should I?

So, the reasons foam rolling is so important to both our athletic and our everyday health:

  • It increases range of motion
  • It corrects muscle imbalances
  • It helps decrease risk of injury
  • It helps relieve DOMS and tightness

And something I’ve noticed myself is that having to prop yourself up to reach some muscles doesn’t half provide a good core workout. Win win.

Why Our Muscles Love Being Rolled Out All Nice

Our muscles are complex and prone to diva-ish behaviour if not lavished with lots of attention and tenderness. When we exercise and perform repetitive movements knots, or ‘trigger points’, form in the muscles. Regular foam rolling can release these adhesions in our muscles and connective tissue which stretching alone cannot. These points of tension can cause weaknesses and pain which stop the muscle from contracting in the way it is supposed to – leading to increased injury risk.

Pick Your Torture Device

There’s a whole host of foam roller and trigger-point release paraphernalia on the market, my favourite, and one of the most lethal, is the grid style on the bottom left. It’s now my BFF. Many of the others I daren’t go anywhere near…


You can also use a humble tennis ball and I’ve been known to use a kitchen rolling pin on occasion. They both work fine but as they have smaller surface areas they’re just a little trickier and more painful to use.

This is How You Roll

It will be uncomfortable and most likely pretty painful to the point of inducing tears, but suck it up; injuries hurt a heck of a lot more! The good thing is that once you’ve got the nastiest  kinks out it starts to feel almost a little teensy bit like a massage. Kind of.

These diagrams do a good job of showing how to roll the major muscles:

Foam-Rolling-Infographic6 Foam-Rolling-Infographic5 Foam-Rolling-Infographic4 Foam-Rolling-Infographic3 Foam-Rolling-Infographic2 Foam-Rolling-Infographic1


Unlike static stretching, which should only be performed after exercise, foam rolling can be done at any time. I usually do it before my workout so I can get my ass to grass for squats :D

A Couple of Words of Warning

  1. To really work into the muscles properly you’ll probably find you need to get into some pretty awkward looking poses that will attract some side-eyeing from other gym users. Ignore them. You’re winning.
  2. Obviously I am not an authority on the body in any way (yet!) but one thing my physio was sure to advise me against was rolling out the IT band. This is something I’ve seen encouraged amongst athletes and so this was news to me too, but apparently, as runners especially, our IT bands need to be tight so that they can properly support the rest of our body. THIS article explains it much more articulately than I could.

Happy rolling!


11 thoughts on “The Lowdown on Foam Rolling

  1. Oh well thank-you, that’s kind of you to say! I loved marathon training but I’m going to wait a few years before committing to another, I just want to knock that pesky one minute off and sub 4hours… And that’s true what you say about the tennis balls getting into the smaller spots, they just hurt so much!

    1. Welcome Rachel! I think it is great that you have a long term goal and I am sure you’ll get in the sub 3s. If you run half marathons then you should be in great shape before you even start training for the next one. I’ll be honest I have no desire to ever train to run 26.2 miles, so I really do admire those who do all that training.

      Yes, tennis balls do hurt like crazy, but boy do they get they take care of business! It is amazing how well they can help release tight muscles. I never used one until I started seeing a chiropractor for an old running injury that I never addressed until I absolutely had to. I didn’t think a tennis ball would do much, but I swear by them now!

    1. Yes! Use it! You’ll recover much more quickly so you can put in tonnes of good quality training to get your sub 2 (which you’re OBVIOUSLY going to get :)). I’m so much less achy when I use mine.

  2. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto
    a co-worker who was conducting a little homework on this.
    And he actually ordered me dinner simply because I found it for
    him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending time to discuss this subject here on your internet

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