Foam roller exercises: 5 key areas to focus on

Ease your muscles and improve your post-exercise recovery with this simple and invaluable piece of kit.

Foam rolling is a simple self-massage technique that is used by many people to help with easing tightness and sore spots post-exercise. Some also feel foam rolling exercises benefit them in terms of speeding up their post-workout recovery.

Foam rollers are large cylinders made of solid foam. It’s an inexpensive bit of fitness kit that is relatively easy to use – once you know how. Many people either own one or have access to one via a gym membership.

When you use a foam roller on specific areas of your body, it enables you to apply pressure to your muscles and fascia (the connective tissue that wraps around and supports every structure in your body).

A man is pictured using an orange-coloured foam roller on his right calf area, while sitting with his leg outstretched on an athletics track. He is wearing a black fitness vest and black fitness bottoms. Only his torso and legs are captured in the image.Credit: Shutterstock/Just Life

While it can be rather uncomfortable at times, particularly when you are foam rolling over a tight spot, it’s common to feel a little better after using one.


Benefits of foam roller exercises

While there are various anecdotal benefits associated with foam rolling, the scientific research into its potential effects has been limited to date.

However, some benefits have been identified, including that foam rolling can improve range of motion (when used both before or after exercise), help to prevent and relieve muscle fatigue, and reduce the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness.

“Foam rolling can be beneficial for exercise recovery because it helps to alleviate inflammation that occurs during the muscle repair process that goes on after a workout or run,” says Chris Ruxton, a personal trainer and advisor to Deep Heat and Deep Freeze.

“The pressure that’s placed on the muscles during foam rolling helps to increase blood flow and it also improves the elasticity of your muscles and joints,” he continues. “It’s also great for injury prevention as it maintains muscle length while reducing tightness and stiffness to help with overall joint mobility.”

5 key areas to target with foam roller exercises

After a run or weight-training session, it’s often your leg muscles – including the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings – that tend to feel it. Due to this, Ruxton and Plycneryte both recommend foam rolling your leg area first, then progressing to the glutes and back.

1. Quads

“Start in the forearm plank position and place the foam roller under your quads,” advises Ruxton.

“Brace yourself with your upper body and using your core, gradually move the foam roller down your upper leg until it gets to your knees. Then roll it back again towards your hips.

“Continue moving the foam roller up and down for 30 seconds but if you hit a tender spot at any time, hold your roller there for a few breaths.”

2. Calf muscles

“Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended and the foam roller positioned underneath your calves,” advises Plycneryte.

“Next, lift your body up so your weight is resting on the foam roller. You can also cross your left leg over your right for extra pressure.

“Begin to slowly work on the right calf by moving the foam roller back and forth, navigating your body forwards and backwards as you do this. Switch legs and repeat.”


3. Hamstrings

Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended. Position the foam roller underneath the upper back of your legs (hamstring area).

Lift your body up and down as you roll back and forth between the back of your knees and up to your glutes. Linger on any tender spots as required.

Ruxton suggests focusing on one leg at a time and aiming for a minute per side.

4. Glutes

You can massage your glute muscles with a foam roller simply by sitting on the roller and moving back and forth over the area.

For a more intense massage, you can also cross one leg over the other and try foam rolling this way.

“Tight glutes can cause pain in your hips and back, so this stretch is vital after a workout,” says Ruxton.

5. Upper back

“Start by lying supine (facing upwards) and position the foam roller underneath your upper back,” advises Plycneryte.

“Your knees should be bent with your feet flat on the floor and your arms down by your sides or resting on your chest. Brace your core and lift yourself up into a shallow bridge pose position.

“Then, slowly start to roll up and down between your lower neck and your mid-back.”

Which foam roller is best?

Nowadays, the humble foam roller can be found in many different forms. Some (such as the Core Balance Deep Tissue Foam Roller, £13.99 from Amazon) feature torturous-looking little bumps that are designed to help target specific spots, as in the picture above. You can even buy models that vibrate to help up the intensity of your foam roller exercises, like the URBNFit Foam Roller (£47.99, Amazon).

However, Saga Exceptional’s Fitness Editor in Chief, Stephanie Wood, is very happy with her more traditional, smooth-surfaced foam roller by Maximo Fitness (£25.99, Amazon).

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Maximo Fitness Foam Roller

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Maximo Fitness Foam Roller

What to bear in mind before doing foam roller exercises

Ruxton advises paying attention to the muscle groups you use during exercise as this will help to guide you on where to focus when you come to use your foam roller. Likewise, if you have any areas that feel tight or sore before or after exercise, they should be your first port of call.

Gintare Plycneryte is a fitness coach at F45 Training in Millharbour who regularly suggests foam rolling to her clients.

“I highly recommend foam rolling after an intense workout or even the next day after you’ve been physically active,” she says. “I find it can help to diminish any aches and pains, increase flexibility and range of motion. It does this as it improves blood flow to the areas you focus on, and I’ve also found it can enhance athletic performance.

“Foam rolling regularly is a small change you can make to your exercise routine that will offer longer-term benefits to how you recover and perform,” she adds.

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her


Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

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