Foam Rolling has become about as trendy as skinny jeans lately, and I don’t hate it.
I’m a big believer in foam rolling, even though there is not a large amount of research to back it up. I’m a believer because of anecdotal experience, both from myself and from the athletes that I treat on a daily basis.
Foam rollers are a tool used by many fitness enthusiasts and professionals, and essentially help you to perform a technique called myofascial release on yourself. (Note: When using a foam roller, you are not stretching the muscles. Common misconception.) The theory, in a nutshell, is that the fascia (connective tissue) that surrounds all of our muscles, can get bound up with scar tissue and adhesions from daily use, movement patterns, etc. The foam roller is a tool that can be used to loosen these adhesions, allowing your muscles to move more freely throughout their range of motion. Again, the research is not really there, but I’ve had good results. So until I stop getting good results, I’ll continue to use it and recommend it.
Most people out there who have step foot in a gym over the past couple of years have at least seen foam rollers if they haven’t personally used them. However, while most people who use them know to roll the larger muscle groups such as the quads, hamstrings, and hipflexors, a lot of people miss the smaller or harder to reach areas, which can be just as important (if not more so).
The following are 5 of the areas that most people miss when foam rolling, thus missing out on many of the potential benefits:
1. IT Band – While this is a fairly common one, I know there are still some people out there who don’t know what their IT Band is. Essentially, it’s a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the outside of your hip to the outside of your knee. It can be a nagging cause of pain for many people, especially runners. Because of it’s placement, and due to the fact that it’s not actually a muscle, you can’t really stretch your IT Band. This is where the foam roller comes in, to help areas along the ITB that generally have increased friction, such as just above the outside of your knee.
With all of your weight on the outside of your thigh use your other foot to assist you to roll from just below your hip, to just above your knee.
2. Medial and Lateral Quad – Most people foam roll the very anterior (front) portion of their quad group, but they forget that the quadriceps are made of up of 4 muscles! While two of them are located on the anterior thigh, there are also medial and lateral quad muscles that need to be taken care of as well. It’s these parts of the quad (especially the medial, or VMO), that often contribute to knee pain such as “runners knee”
To target the VMO (or medial/inner quad), position yourself over the foam roller as you would for the quads normally, with the foam roller directly under the front of your thighs. Rotate your legs away from eachother so that you are slightly “duck footed”, and roll down to just above your knee (see picture above). For the lateral thigh, position yourself on your front, and then roll slightly to each side to target each leg separately (see picture below).
3. Adductors: (Muscle group along your inner thigh) Position yourself so that one leg is turned out, and the foam roller is under your inner thigh. Yes, it will look a little awkward if you do this in public, but it’s an important area to foam roll! Overly tight adductors can inhibit your glutes which can effect compound movements such as squats, and keeping them loose can do wonders for your hip mobility and range of motion.
4. Hip External Rotators/Gluteus Medius: There is a group of smaller muscles that work to externally rotate (turn out) your hip, as well as the gluteus medius, which is basically a cap over your hip joint. When these muscles are overly tight, they can cause movement dysfunction, hip pain, knee pain, and other ailments. Keeping this tissue healthy is not only important for proper movement patterns for squats and deadlifts, but also for general hip and lower extremity quality of movement.
Position yourself so that you are sitting on the foam roller, with one leg crossed over the other in a figure-4 position. Shift your weight slightly to the side that of your crossed leg, and roll back and forth a few inches each way.
It’s hard to see in the picture, but I am shifted a little bit to the L side, so that my weight is on the L upper glute/hip area. I will also keep my legs in this position and roll almost completely to the L side to reach more of the Glute Medius
5. Lats/Upper Back: Of all the areas that people foam roll, this one is probably forgotten the most. Many people associate foam rollers with your lower body, but the upper back and lats (Latissimus Dorsi, or the bat wings, as they’re sometimes called) are just as important. Overly tight lats can lead to shoulder pain and dysfunction, back pain as well as a whole slew of other problems since it is such a large muscle and is used often.
Position yourself so that you are lying on one side, with the foam roller under the upper portion of your lats on that side, and that arm above your head. Your weight should be resting just under and to the back of your armpit, and trust me, this will not be comfortable. Roll back and forth a few inches, or you may also be able to find an exceptionally tight spot and stay on it for 20-30 seconds.
6. Sacrum: Your sacrum forms the base of your spine, just above your coccyx, or tail bone. I’m not telling you to roll directly over the bone, but the ever important gluteus maximus attaches along the side edges of the sacrum, and paying special attention to this area is important for proper hip mobility and function. Keep in mind that the gluteus maximus is one of the biggest, and strongest muscles in your body when it is functioning correctly. Keeping this tissue healthy is king when it comes to your big compound lifts, and for running too for those of you who don’t lift.
Position yourself so you are seated on the foam roller, with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Shift slightly to one side so that your weight is just on the side of your sacrum, and roll back and forth about 4-5 inches. Continue on the other side.
I know it looks like I”m just sitting there, but I actually am doing something here. You can’t really tell by the picture, but my weight is shifted ever so slightly to the side, to really get in along the glute attachments along the sacrum.
- Spend a decent amount of time on each area. Although it will depend on each area and the density of the tissue, 30 seconds – 2 minutes should be sufficient.
- This will not be comfortable! You shouldn’t be in agonizing pain, but it won’t feel like rolling through a field of daisies, either. The good news though, is that the more often you do this, the less it will hurt!
- Do this regularly. Ideally, it should be part of your dynamic warm up, cool down, and also a part of your daily routine even on days when you’re not working out.
- You may have to play around with this a little. Especially in the hip area, you may have to move your body around at a few different angles to the areas that feel especially tight. I always encourage my athletes to really take some time and notice how you feel at each spot. The area of your hips that needs more attention could be totally different than mine, so pay close attention when doing these drills.
Do you foam roll, and how often? What are the areas that you focus on the most? Do you find any areas to be so painful that you can’t tolerate it? Do you foam roll before or after your workouts (or both?)