Foam rolling. You might have heard the term, you might have seen one in your local gym, but seriously – what the heck do you actually do with one and what are the foam roller back exercises you should know?
These days, they seem to be everywhere, and plenty of fitness buffs on Instagram say that a roller – which is a simple cylinder made of a firm but slightly squishy material – is a vital part of any active person’s cool-down routine. The idea is that you roll your body over it after any strenuous exercise that’s likely to make your muscles ache the next day.
If, like us, you’re a little clueless about the mechanics of foam rolling, we’ve asked personal trainer Katie Anderson (flyldn.co.uk) to give some helpful pointers on how to get the most out of this tool…
What are foam rollers useful for?
When they’re used in the right way, foam rollers can release tension and tightness between the muscles and the fascia (fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle).
Also know as self-myofascial release, the technique helps to massage your trigger points – specific ‘knots’ that form in muscles from repetitive moving patterns, like running and reps. It’s basically a self-massage technique, using your body weight.
“It starts off a little uncomfortable,” says Anderson, ” but after a few seconds, you feel the knots popping loose, muscles beginning to smooth out and finally, you can breathe through the roll.
“Foam rolling isn’t only for gym goers, cycling lovers or street runners – everyone can try it, and if you do any physical activity, then you definitely should be rolling.
“If you’re concerned about foam rolling due to any heart, lung, kidney issues, skin irritation, bleeding, or pre- or post-natal health, then you should always consult your doctor beforehand.”
The four best foam roller exercises
1. Back (Thoracic Spine)
Foam roller back exercises are a great way to loosen back musles and release tension across your whole back.
“Start by sitting on the floor, legs slightly bent and hip distance apart, with your feet planted. Place the foam roller on your mid-back. Cross your arms over your chest and press your hips to sky, as if you’re going to do a glute bridge, placing your body weight onto the foam roller,” explains Anderson.
“From here, keep your core engaged and with power from the legs, start to slowly roll forward and back. When you find a sore patch, hold the position (I know it’s sore) for about 30 seconds. Then you should continue to roll.”
2. Bum (Glutes/Piriformis) exercises
“Simply sit your bum onto the foam roller like it’s a chair. By lifting one leg and sitting it on top of the other leg, like a ‘figure four’ stretch (ankle to opposite knee), you can focus on one side at a time.
“Once in position, use the single leg planted on the floor in front of you and your hands planted on the floor behind you to slowly roll forward and back. Keeping your core engaged, hold any position where it’s sore. When you’re ready, swap your legs over.”
3. Calves (Gastrocnemius)
“Sit on the floor and place the foam roller under one calf. With your hands under your shoulders in a tricep dip position, push your hips up, placing weight onto the foam roller.
“With the opposite leg slightly bent and foot planted, begin to roll on the calf. Once you find a tight area, lift off the opposite planted foot and place it on top of working leg, in crossed position to add weight.
“Keep your shoulders and back engaged, and your glutes squeezed to assist this lifted position. Swap your legs when you’re ready.”
4. Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)
“Lying on your side, place the foam roller under your armpit, with the arm extended straight above the head. Bend the knee closest to the ground and keep the top leg straight with your foot planted.
“Using the shin and straight leg, lift your hips slightly and begin to roll. It might take you a few tries to get into the right position (especially if you’re on a slippy surface) so make sure you have bare feet for this one.
“Keeping your spare hand on the ground, in front of your belly button to help stabilise, hold the position for 30 seconds and the swap sides.”