What are the most common areas to foam roll?
Q: In your last article you mentioned foam rolling for reducing muscle knots. I usually get massages to alleviate tight muscles and trigger points but would be very interested in using the foam roller for times when I can’t get appointments. My question is what areas of the body would you suggest starting with and how often should I do it? Also, what does each specific area target?
A: Foam rolling is a great way to keep your body healthy, loose and functioning at an optimal level. It can reduce muscle soreness and joint stress, and can increase circulation to flush toxins and help the body recover faster from tough workouts. Since everybody’s needs are different, where and how often you roll should depend on your individual needs.
How often should I roll?
If you are new to foam rolling, you’ll quickly find out that it can be a bit painful, and you’ll have to ease into it until you work out some of the tender trigger points and muscle knots that are hiding deep in the muscles. With a little practice, the pain will go away and the muscles will become more functional. For beginners, I’d suggest rolling every other day until the muscles become smoother and pain free, but as you get more comfortable, you can do it every day pre- or post-workout depending on what works best for you.
Iliotibial (IT) bands
The IT band is the area located on the side of your thighs from the knee to just below the hip and is one of the most popular areas to roll. A tight IT band can manifest itself with soreness in the outer or lower thigh and can even put stress on the knee joint, causing injury or joint pain. To loosen the IT band, rest you body sideways on the foam roller and begin rolling from below the hip bone to just above the knee. Be sure to use your arms for support and balance, and when you finish one side be sure to switch to the other and do the same amount of reps.
The hips flexors are an area of muscle about the size of your palm right below your hip bones and above your thighs. If you have tight hip flexors, you will more than likely experience hip and lower back pain and could fall victim to more serious injuries. Tight hip flexors are very common for people who spend long periods of time sitting at a desk or in a chair, but a foam roller can release the tightness and correct the problem. To foam roll the hip flexors, lie face down with the roller positioned right below your hip bone and angle your body slightly to one side. Using your elbows and toes for support, slowly roll back and forth from below the hip bone to the upper part of the thigh putting the pressure on one hip flexor at a time.
When finished, lean slightly to the opposite side and repeat for the same amount of reps.
The quads are the four muscles that make up the front of your thigh, and if they get tight, it can lead to knee and hip and knee pain and decreased mobility. To roll the quads, lie face down with the foam roller placed directly below your hip just as if you’re going to roll your hip flexor, but instead roll back and forth from the hip all the way down to just above the knee. It’s important to lean to one side and concentrate on one leg at a time, and when finished, switch to the other side by leaning the body the opposite way.
Hamstrings and glutes
The glutes and hamstrings are located in the back of the body from the waist to above the back of the knees. Tightness in this area often causes lower back pain and inflammation of the sciatic nerve and can quickly derail your workouts and reduce athletic performance. Foam rolling can release tension quickly and can instantly improve posture. To roll this area, sit on the foam roller with both legs extended in front of you. Using your hands for balance, slowly move back and forth, moving the foam roller up and down your glutes and hamstrings.
Behind shoulder blades
The most common area to roll in the upper body is the middle of the back right behind the shoulder blade. This area is often the victim of muscle tightness and trigger points due to overdevelopment of the chest, biceps and shoulders, causing an imbalance between the front and back of the body. Rolling this area on a regular basis can reduce tightness and pain, and greatly increase shoulder mobility. The only problem is, the trouble spot is located in such tight quarters it makes much more sense to use a tennis ball instead of a foam roller. To roll this area, lie on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees and a tennis ball placed under one side of your back between your spine and your shoulder blade. Slowly rock back and forth using the ball to apply pressure to the targeted area.