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Foam Roller for Muscle Massage - Top 10 Rolls

Updated on April 19, 2012
All photos property of HobbyNob/Holistic Friend; copy or reuse without permission prohibited
All photos property of HobbyNob/Holistic Friend; copy or reuse without permission prohibited | Source
Foam roller
Foam roller | Source

Roll Your Muscle Tension Away

I came home the other night to find my husband, soon-to-go-pro power lifter Big McV, rolling on the floor with a new companion. But, no, I didn't rush to the kitchen and find the biggest frying pan I could to bop them both on the head, because this was no ordinary roll in the carpet. And the companion had no head to bop anyway.

He was grunting there on the living-room floor with his new foam roller from Gaiam (about $30 at a sporting-goods store), performing a technique of myofascial release to massage his muscles before they seized up from the nearly 500 lbs he'd just bench pressed in the gym. I know what you're thinking: Myo who?? Well, myofascial release is a practice of self-massage and stretching that softens the fascia, or the connective tissue that surrounds groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. The rolling releases tension and soothes sore muscles, relieving the pain that runners, weightlifters and other high-performance athletes might otherwise feel.

But there's a benefit for those whose high performance is limited to a 45-minute Zumba class, too. Stress relief and long, lean muscle build-up is also a side effect of rolling it out with a foam buddy. Combine some foam roller exercises with deep, yoga style breathing and you've got quite the living-room staycation going.

So without further ado, Big McV will demonstrate in this photo montage how to do foam roller exercises after a strenuous workout pumping iron in the gym (they also use chains that are stored medieval style on the wall, by the way). Or, like the rest of us, simply to ease sore muscles from a day chasing the kids or running errands or a great workout. The stress release is quick and painless, and it costs a lot less than hiring a professional to "work her magic." This magic can cost as little as $10 to $15.


First, the Roller

Foam rollers are various sizes, but Big McV prefers to use the 36 inch high-density roller for more advanced moves. His is 6 inches in diameter and can be used for stretching, massage, stability exercises, yoga, pilates, core strengthening moves, sports rehab and physiotherapy, among other stress-relieving practices. The cylinder-shaped roller is usually 12 inches long, but a longer 3 foot roller can be used for certain muscles in the back, in addition to the leg and arm muscles the shorter roller hits.


Rock and Roller

Big McV, when he's not in the gym, can 9 times out of 10 be found reading articles from T-Nation, his favorite weightlifting site. According to T-Nation, self-myofascial release, or SMR, is an inexpensive and effective method of reducing adhesion and scar tissue accumulation created during muscle exertions. To notice a difference in how you feel, though, you'll have to stick with your roller exercise, doing a rotation of moves on a regular basis to get results.

The foam roller helps you with SMR because of autogenic inhibition. The Golgi Tendon Organ, found where muscle meets tendon, reacts to muscle tension; when the tension is high, the GTO acts to relax the muscle, according to T-Nation writer Eric Cressey. That reflex, autogenic inhibition, helps keep the muscle from getting injured and aids stretching.

Foam rolling lets you simulate muscle tension, triggering the GTO to relax the muscle, T-Nation says. As you get better at using the roller, you can put more pressure on it, applying most or all of your body weight to the exercise. You can stack one leg on top of the other to do this, for example, if you're working with the legs.

It may help to start at points nearest the center of the body and work out to the extremities. You can shorten your motions until you get used to the roller; for example, start at the top half of your quadriceps and work your way down.

One caveat is that people with circulatory problems and chronic pain should avoid using foam rollers.

Big McV's Top 10

Here are the rolls Big McV likes to do best after a good workout. Remember, there are lots of other moves available in the pilates realm; those shown here are mostly for muscle recovery after weight training or for stress relief.

#1 Hammies

Sit on top of the roller and roll down to rest your hamstrings over the roller, balancing on your hands. Then roll from the bottom of the glutes to the knee. You can stack one leg on top of the other to intensify the pressure, and try turning your feet to different angles and straight ahead to cover the whole hamstring.

Hamstring roll
Hamstring roll | Source

#2 Calves

From the hamstring roll position, roll from your knee to your ankle to reach the calves. Try one leg on top of the other, and with toes up and down.

Calves roll
Calves roll | Source

#3 Glutes

From the hamstring roll position, roll up and sit on top of the roller, then roll back and forth to hit the gluteus maximus. Than, lie on your side with your behind over the roller to the side, and roll from the top of the muscle to the bottom, balancing with your feet on the floor.

Glutes roll
Glutes roll | Source

#4 Hip Flexors

Rest on your forearms with the top of one thigh on the roller, T-Nation advises. Then roll from the upper thigh into the hip, and rotate the femur in and out. Big McV is rolling into the hip here; his left forearm would otherwise be on the ground as well.

Hip flexors roll
Hip flexors roll | Source

#5 Quads

From the hip flexor roll, just move further down the leg to roll the quads. To work the tibialis anterior, move the quad roll to your shins.

Quadriceps roll
Quadriceps roll | Source

#6 Thigh to Knee

One of the more advanced moves. Start on your side with the roller just under your pelvis. Roll clear down the lateral thigh to the knee. To work the lower leg, keep rolling down to the lateral muscles on the lower leg, from the knee to the ankle.

Thigh to knee roll
Thigh to knee roll | Source
Lower lumbar to mid back roll
Lower lumbar to mid back roll | Source

#7 Mid to Lower Back, Mid to Upper Back

Lie supine with the roller under the middle of your back, fold your arms, and lean to the side slightly. Lift your behind and roll from the bottom of the scapulae to the pelvis. Repeat on the other side, leaning slightly.

Then, put your arms behind your head and, from the same position, roll your butt down to touch the ground. Roll up until you reach armpit level, then reverse course.

Big McV is demonstrating the move with arms at his sides because he finds this the most comfortable position for his body type (very large male).

Mid back to upper back roll
Mid back to upper back roll | Source
Tricep roll
Tricep roll | Source

#8 Tricep Roller

This exercise can be done lying down, but Big McV likes to do it from a standing position. Put the roller at the top of your tricep, near your armpit, and lean in with your head toward your arm to add tension.

Bicep roll
Bicep roll | Source

#9 Bicep Roller

Big McV does this in the doorway to the laundry room, but any old doorway would work. Facing one side of the door frame, he holds the roller horizontal so it makes a T with his arm, which is extended straight toward the floor. Then he bends his legs and rolls this bicep up and down the roller, from the base of the shoulder to the elbow. He also rolls along the bottom half of his arm to ease the tension there, especially on "heavy arm days."

Pectorals roll - standing
Pectorals roll - standing | Source

#10 Pectorals and Delts

Big McV takes this from a standing position, as shown. Up and down, up and down. From a prone position, though, put the roller at a slight angle to one side of the sternum. T-Nation says the arm should be extended to about 135 degrees, or halfway between completely overhead and where it would be after a lateral raise. Then roll toward the armpit.

Delts roll - standing
Delts roll - standing | Source


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I like a smaller roller like a golf ball muscle roller which i can bring with me easily to the gym. Anyone else have one?

    • profile image

      gary miller 

      7 years ago

      I saw your foam roller review and wanted to share my product information with you maybe you can do another review when my product is available to you. My name is Gary Miller and my company is launching its first 5 in 1 home and travel fitness product next month called the ProUnit Performance Trainer. Once the site is up you can find us at until then find us on Facebook at the ProUnit Performance Trainer.

      The ProUnit is a 5 in 1 product...

      1) Foam Roller

      2) Ab Roller

      3) Rotating Push-up handles

      4) Ab Wheel

      5) Stretch Strap

      The other great advantage of the ProUnit is that since the tube is hollow you can put extra fitness products in the tube like fitness bands, jump rope, agility ladder, suspension straps...pretty much you can be creative even a mat wraps around outside for a place to work out on. The ProUnit Performance Trainer is the fitness tool of 2013.

      We are planning to launch Feb 1st so hopefully we can share the ProUnit with you then. Until that time please like our ProUnit Performance Trainer Page here on Facebook. We would love to share content as we grow.


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