The History of Foam Rolling

Since the 1980s, Foam Rollers have been an effective tool for massage and self myofascial release (the relaxing of contracted muscles and improvement of lymphatic circulation). Foam rollers were introduced to the general population by practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method. They used foam roller to perform standing balance exercises and to aid in restoration. It wasn’t until 1987 that a physical therapist by the name of Sean Gallagher used foam rollers as a self massage instrument. He worked alongside Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins to keep Robbins’ cast members in mint condition. By 2004, an abundance of physical therapists had caught on to the benefits of foam rolling and recommended their injured clients use a foam roller to release muscular tension. Athletes and personal trainers also hopped onboard as foam rolling proved to be a great alternative to pain killers and more cost effective than buying weekly massages.

Foam Rolling 101

There are several muscle groups you can target with the foam roller: glutes, quads, lateral and medial hamstrings, lats, and midback. If you are new to foam rolling, make sure to avoid rolling on bony landmarks such as the knees and elbows, and keep your core engaged during all of the exercises. It is recommended to roll slowly through the painful areas so that the muscular tension can dissipate with ease. Using trigger pointing also helps facial release. Utilize trigger points by applying pressure to a specific tension area for 20-30 seconds. The knotted area will start to release and the muscle will lengthen.

When purchasing a foam roller, you want to make a decision based on the texture, size, and shape of the roller. If you tend to be sensitive to pain, the soft foam roller may be a better fit as the harder roller dig deeper into the fascia. Foam rollers can be both short or long in length. Have balance issues or need something less intrusive? The half (short) roller may be a better option. You can also chose whether you want your roller to have a flat or a bumpy surface.

Introductory Foam Rolling Exercises

  1. Lie on the roller vertically making sure it is comfortably and evenly underneath your back. Reach both hands to the sky and begin protracting (gently reaching shoulders forward) and retracting (gently pressing shoulders back) into the roller. You can add elevation, depression, and circumduction to make it a series of movements for the scapula.
  2. Place your quads on the foam roller with your forearms on the ground. Slowly move forward and backward, staying above the knee. If you want to focus on one quad at a time, cross-cross your ankles and lean into the roller slowly, going back and forth or holding knotted area for 20-30 seconds. Make sure the abdominals are engaged and lifting up and in to protect your low back.
  3. Sit on the roller horizontally. Depending on your flexibility, cross your right ankle over your left quadricep and then lean into your left glute and either hold the roller still or rock out on your tight area. Repeat on the other side. A modification of these movement would be to omit the crossed ankle and keep your feet side by side.

Happy Foam Rolling!

-Sarah Rosner

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