Foam Rolling: Hurts so good

Nothing feels better on tight, sore muscles than a well-deserved massage. In fact, most people don’t recognize that massage therapy should be part of the workout routine. It’s as important as stretching. So, why is foam rolling, a form of self-massage, such a foreign practice to people who have been working out regularly for years?

Probably because it hurts.

When something hurts, the body is trying to tell the mind to stop whatever is happening. Pain is a protective reaction. In this case, however, pain is a good thing. It is a signal that the foam rolling is working, and that the muscles really need it.

How It Works

A foam roller is a non-flexible column, usually two or three feet in length. To give you a better idea, they can be made at home with PVC pipe and a soft cover. They are designed to roll underneath the body along trigger points in the back, quadriceps, IT bands, calves, hamstrings, lats, even inner thighs. The person lies on top, moving the body forward and back over the desired area.

Foam Rolling

This type of direct massage, known as self-myofascial release, actually releases “knots” within the muscle caused by repetitive movements as well as elements in posture, nutrition, hydration, pre-workout preparation and post-workout decompression. Even being inactive for some time can cause the muscles to cramp up or tighten. Rolling them out loosens them up and pushes blood flow to the area, which promotes cell repair.

Imagine muscles overworked and underpaid, unable to release. Over time, they become less flexible, stiff, knotted, and begin to cause pain in other areas. For example, the IT band stems from the hip and runs down the outside of the leg into the knee. If this band becomes stressed, hip or knee pain can develop. Jumps, lunges, gluteal isolation movements, even climbing stairs can become more difficult.

Rock ’n Roll

Here are a few foam roller basics:

  • Foam rolling is not for the abdominals or sides of the lower back where the kidneys are located.
  • For smaller areas, like the arch of the foot or back of the neck, a lacrosse or tennis ball can be used.
  • This process should not be rushed.
  • Accurate pressure is key.
  • If an area hurts too much, stop. The soft tissue will need recovery time from activity.
  • Try different angles every few repetitions.

If you’ve never tried foam rolling before, ask an instructor or trainer to go over the movements with you. Hydrate as much as possible, and be prepared to feel sore after the first few times you try it. Eventually, it will become so routine, your body will be used to it.

How to Include It

  • Get to your workout at least 15 minutes early.
  • Roll through the back, from the lumbar spine to the tips of the shoulder blades. Hug yourself to open the upper back, then roll the areas tucked underneath the scapulae.
  • Wake up the glutes with tiny rolls, then move to the quadriceps and IT bands.
  • Stretch the muscles again with shallow reaches and small pulses, treating the muscles like a cold rubber band.

Finally, include some dynamic movements like a wall sit, some air squats, or slow walking lunges with a twist to get the blood flowing to all the passages you just opened. The rolling can be repeated after the workout. Post-workout rolling is a good time to include the smaller areas or focus only on the sorest spots.

Foam rollers can be purchased in sporting goods departments or online between $15–$45, and movements can be discovered through resources like Most gyms and studios, including Bella Forza Fitness, have foam rollers available to members.


Contributed by Amanda
Amanda is a wife, mother, exercise and wellness enthusiast, and freelance writer and editor. When she’s not chasing her toddler, you can find her in the gym, voluntarily putting herself through high intensity, muscle-shaking, heavy lifting, one-more-rep kind of workouts. As a Les Mills GRIT Series instructor, Amanda coaches small teams of motivated men and women to achieve increased levels of fitness and body awareness. But she is a student first and foremost—always learning and researching the latest fitness trends, which she shares right her on Strong Is Our Sexy.

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