Release tension with these 8 muscle-saving moves.
Release tension with these 8 muscle-saving moves. (Photo: Claire Bruce)

Get the Most Out of Your Foam Roller with These 8 Moves

You can do a lot more with a foam roller than you might think

Release tension with these 8 muscle-saving moves.

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Massages are a great way to release tension and speed up recovery after intense workouts. But foam rollers are cheaper and offer many of the same benefits. Foam rolling relieves tight muscles and works the connective tissue between muscles, organs, and bones. Here are eight moves I use to maximize this tool during the rolling class I teach at Railyard Fitness in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Elongate Your Spine and Open Your Chest

(Claire Bruce)

How to Do It: Lay on the foam roller, which should be parallel to your spine. Make sure your head, neck, shoulders, upper back, midback, lower back, and pelvis are completely supported. Let your arms rest beside your body with your palms rotated either up or down. Allow your entire body to relax, and then gently rock from right to left. Stretch your neck by slowly turning your head side to side.

Relax Your Shoulders and Upper Back

How to Do It: Lay back onto the roller, which should be perpendicular to your spine, behind your third- or fourth-lowest ribs. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, your hips heavy, and your core engaged. Bring your hands behind your ears with your elbows wide, keeping your fingers light and your chest open. Take a deep breath, and on your exhale, extend your back over the foam roller in a gentle arch. Do this movement a few times in sync with your breath, inhaling to prepare and exhaling to arch. Return to the starting position, and bring your elbows in. Press into your feet to lift your hips a few inches from the ground. Keep your spine straight, and roll up to the tips of your shoulder blades and back down to where you started. Do this between five and ten times. From here, lean to one side of your body and roll five to ten times with the opposite shoulder blade lifted. You can straighten out your bottom arm or keep your palm behind your head. Repeat this on the opposite side.

Relieve Tightness in the IT Band and Glutes 

How to Do It: Start by sitting upright on the foam roller with your knees bent and your feet together. Lean both of your knees to the right so that your left hip is lifted. Draw three to four small circles on the roller with your right hip, moving both clockwise and counterclockwise. From here, roll forward and back along the side of your glutes five to ten times. Next, straighten your right leg and cross your left over it, with your left foot flat on the ground. Roll the entire length of your upper right leg—from the outside of your right hip to just above your right knee (do not foam roll your knee). Repeat this five to ten times. You can also pause at the middle of your outer leg and roll your leg side to side.

Open the Hips and Work Out Tight Quads

How to Do It: Lay the front of your hips on the roller. Keep your feet about a foot apart, and rest your knees gently on the ground, placing your head on your hands. Then press your left palm into the ground and roll onto your right side, stacking your hips. From here, roll forward and back between five and ten times. Repeat this on your left side. To work into your quadriceps, move the foam roller to just above your knees. Rest on your forearms, keeping your knees lifted from the ground, your core engaged, and your hips lifted a bit higher than your shoulders. Roll your quadriceps five to ten times, either working your entire upper leg in one roll or breaking it into smaller sections and gradually moving upward. To intensify this, you can bend your knees, bringing your lower legs and feet toward the ceiling.

Massage the Hamstrings and Calves

How to Do It: Start by sitting upright on the foam roller. With the help of your arms, lift your butt and rest the highest part of your hamstrings, where your glutes connect to your upper legs, on the roller. Roll the entire length of your hamstrings five to ten times. To intensify this, cross one leg over the other, and roll one hamstring at a time. To work into your calf muscles, lower your hips to the ground behind the foam roller. Place the roller underneath the widest part of your right calf and cross your left leg over it. Bend and straighten your right leg five to ten times. Explore turning your right toes to the left and right to work into different parts of your muscle. 

Release Your Lower Back

How to Do It: Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Rest your hips on the foam roller, which should be perpendicular to your spine. Take a few deep breaths here. Then slowly lift your feet, and pull your knees toward your chest with your palms. Move your knees in circles clockwise and counterclockwise. From here, keep your right knee bent and allow your left foot to come to the ground. Interlace your palms on your shin below your right knee and hug your right knee toward your right shoulder. Avoid compressing the right side of the belly and the right side of your ribs. Rotate your right foot and ankle clockwise and counterclockwise a few times. Take five to ten deep breaths here. Repeat this on your left side.

Increase Mobility in the Groin and Upper Thighs

How to Do It: Lay on your belly with the foam roller to your left, parallel to your torso. Lean onto your right side and bring your left leg over the foam roller, with your knee bent at a 90 degree angle and your calf and foot resting on the opposite side of the foam roller. Let your leg relax onto on the roller, and square your upper body and hips forward. Take a breath and exhale to roll onto your right side and draw the roller back to you. Repeat this five to ten times before moving to the other side.

Release Tension in the Neck

How to Do It: Lay flat on your back, with your legs straight or your knees bent to support your back. Rest your head on your foam roller, allowing your neck and shoulders to relax toward the ground. The foam roller should be three to four inches from the base of your skull, and you can hold either end to keep it in place. Slowly nod your head up and down, inhaling as you lift your chin and exhaling as you lower it to your chest. Do this five to ten times. From here, bring your head to neutral. Take a breath in, and exhale as you turn your head to the right, as close to your right shoulder as is comfortable. Inhale to bring your head back to neutral. Exhale as you turn your head to the left. Repeat this five to ten times.

Lead Photo: Claire Bruce