How to Use Foam Rolling to Prevent Muscle Pain

Foam rolling is a simple, increasingly common technique for relieving muscle pain and improving mobility. Healthy habits need to be sustainable. That’s why it’s so important to reduce the risk of injury and eliminate soreness that could disrupt your daily routine and make you less inclined to stick with exercise. Using a foam roller for self-myofascial release (SMR) can help.

SMR is a form of self-massage designed to mimic the techniques used by massage or physical therapists to lessen chronic muscle tension. Tennis balls and other tools may be used, although a proper foam roller can be particularly effective. The main idea is to apply targeted pressure (using your bodyweight) to certain muscles and muscle groups in order to relax them.

Even if you already stretch, foam rolling is a great addition to your routine. Studies have found that foam rolling before regular stretching may increase your range of motion, reduce soreness, and improve flexibility. SMR appears to have these positive effects without hurting performance. It also helps to decrease the incidence of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), the pain and stiffness that can surface after intense exercise. Foam rolling’s benefits extend beyond self-myofascial release. There is research suggesting the technique may potentially improve arterial flexibility and vascular function.

You can use the technique before or after you exercise. As a warmup, it increases blood flow, range of motion, and flexibility. As a cooldown, it accelerates the process of the body repairing itself and helps to prevent the onset of muscle soreness. Incorporating 10 or so minutes of daily foam rolling is sufficient for most people who are active. If you push yourself aggressively and exercise intensely, you will experience better results with slightly more SMR.

SMR can be uncomfortable, but it should not be excruciating. Use pain as your guide. You should be able to breathe comfortably as you roll. If not, stop and direct the pressure on another area.

Quick Tips for Foam Rolling

  1. Place the roller or SMR tool on the desired muscle.
  2. Explore the entire muscle by slowly rolling from end to end, using bodyweight as pressure.
  3. If you find a tender area, or hot spot, pause and hold over that area for several deep breaths.
  4. Use a minimum of 90 seconds per muscle, or until you feel a noticeable “release.”
  5. Avoid rolling over joints and bones.
  6. For best results, pair each roll with a stretch for the same muscle.
  7. Progress by increasing time for each muscle, or by applying more pressure with bodyweight or a different tool.

Focus on any areas giving you trouble, such as your upper back and neck, lats, chest, hip, knees, or calf. The important thing is to listen to what your body is telling you and respond with careful, targeted pressure. By relieving and preventing muscle soreness, you'll be in better position to continue with the exercises that keep you strong.

Feel Better.
Live Better.