A foam roller (not to be confused with the kind for styling your hair!) is a tool athletes and physical therapists use to help stretch tight muscles, and now more and more people are using them at home. “You can use the foam roller either before a workout, as part of a warm up and to enhance your stretching routine,” says personal trainer Eva Redpath. “I recommend using it after your workout when your muscles are warm, to help stretch, recover and prevent injury,” she says.
How’s it work? “The roller stretches muscles and tendons but can also be used to break down fascia, the soft connective tissue just below your skin which can become tight—the roller helps to massage and release the facia,” says Redpath. You can use the roller in a few ways, too: as a form of acupressure (“Hold a position and place pressure on a specific area of the body, where you have knots, for example,” she says) or in a self-massage rolling motion, in which you move a part of your body (for example, your quadriceps, hip flexors, IT band or glutes) across the foam roller. You should avoid rolling over your joints, however, other than that, long as you’re breathing through it and it feels good and you’re not fighting back and gripping through it, you should be safe using it. Redpath suggests starting with one-minute stretches, with your whole session totalling 10 minutes.
Here are three of Redpath’s personal favourites when it comes foam-roller stretches:
Chest stretch: Lying (facing upwards to the ceiling) on the length of the foam roller, arms and legs splayed open (“Think yoga savasana,” she says).
IT-band stretch: Lying on your side on the foam roller (with your body perpendicular to the length of the roller), roll the length of the thigh. You have your weight on your hands and the foot of your bottom leg you are stretching, so are therefore controlling the level of pressure applied to your IT band. Repeat on the other side.
Hip flexor stretch: Lie with the foam roller underneath you, perpendicular to your body (you should be facing down into the floor). Balance on your hands and elbows and the ball of the foot of your supporting leg, and roll out the front of your quad, then switch and stretch the other leg.