foam roll quads

Foam Roll Exercises

Foam roll exercises can help decrease soreness, improve flexibility, improve circulation, and prevent injury by loosening muscles. Sometimes it hurts so good though. It is not for the weak of mind. You know when you hit that knot in your shoulder during a massage? Yeah, that all over. You’ll find knots you didn’t know about.

This very useful article from Healthy But Smart goes into detail of the research of foam rolling. It is basically better than stretching for a warm up, but it has no benefits for huge claims such as reducing cellulite or some other weird ones I’ve never heard of like kidney pain? Anyway,  effects are generally short term, such as posture improvement, so it would need to be a regular thing or just for the sake of feeling good. It has been shown that foam rolling does not produce negative effects with performance, however, and can be helpful for runners. 

Feeling good is pretty darn important and foam roll exercises can give that to you.

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Foam Roll Exercises

Exercises for the foam roll can be done on any large muscle group with safety kept in mind.

Some words of caution:

  • Certain areas of the body are more delicate and should be practiced with caution, such as the shoulder.
  • Do not roll over any joints such as the knee or ankle, due to the ligaments present and the differences in laxity. 
  • Some of these exercises put a lot of pressure on the wrists, so be aware of that
  • A softer surface may help with the wrist pressure
  • Don’t try to balance on the foam roll and be aware that it is a rolling object, so you don’t bonk
  • Stop if you have actual pain that is not a tight muscle pain

*Please consult your doctor if you have an injury or are wanting to start a new exercise program, read medical disclaimer here

How to Foam Roll:

Foam roll exercises should be done along a large muscle belly with slight pressure. The idea is to go with the line and pull of the muscle. If you have no idea what that means, then just follow the instructions I have laid out. There is no right length of time or certain manner in which to do it. I’ve learned one way and that is rolling back and forth along the muscle and stopping for a few seconds at point of knots or tightness. Each muscle can be done for any amount of time. Spending 30 seconds is a good amount of time if you’d like a number.

This can be done before or after exercising.

If you don’t have a foam roller, you can use a rolling pin too along any muscle. It works just fine. Foam rollers come in all different sizes and anything works. 


Chest Opener

My favorite of the foam roll exercises and probably the only one I actually do often. Maybe it’s because I don’t seem to do enough exercises to get sore, that’s unfortunate, right? The foam roll chest opener opens the chest, obviously, and also lets the back get some alignment back into it. I talked about this one in my Preventing Posture Pitfalls post.

  • Lay on your back with the foam roll in the center
  • Make sure your head is fully on the foam roll
  • Let arms fall to side
  • Stay here for up to five minutes if you like
  • Try to keep the back down on the foam roll
  • Slowly roll off and feel your back melt into the ground
  • Don’t skip the last step, because it’s the best

foam roll chest opener


Upper Back

This opens the chest just like the above exercise, but involves some movement. I always feel a bit crunchy during this one, so no surprises there. Please don’t over extend yourself. 

  • Have the foam roll across the upper back right under the shoulder blades
  • Bring arms in a crunch position with elbows to the sides
  • Let the upper body fall back over the foam roll, only as far as comfortable
  • Raise up again, careful to not go too far up. It’s not an actual crunch. 

upper back foam roll exercise



  • Put the foam roller across on the upper part of your leg while facing down to the ground
  • Roll the body up and back over the front upper leg muscle (quadriceps)
  • Do not roll over the kneecap


foam roll quads

IT Band

I talked about this and this foam roll exercise can be complimented with my IT band stretches

  • Start on your side with the foam roll on your outer upper leg.
  • Roll from the hip down to above the knee
  • Do not roll on the knee itself


foam roll it band
This is what your face should look like rolling an IT band, not amused


I don’t quite feel anything with this one, but some may who have tight hamstrings. You can cross your legs to isolate one hamstring at a time. 

  • Start sitting on the foam roll
  • Roll along the length of the back of the upper leg
  • Be aware of pressure on the wrists

foam roll hamstrings


The good old calves. These muscles get very tight at times, think of Charley horses. Those are quite awful occurrences. (P.S. you can read more about magnesium here, great for preventing those). Again, you can cross your legs to isolate one, or for a less intense roll, just have both rolling at the same time. 

  • Start sitting again with the foam roll under the lower leg or calves
  • Roll along under the knee to above the ankle

Foam roll calves


This is primarily known as the piriformis roll, so if you have what they call “sciatica”, this may help you. The piriformis is just part of the glute (butt) muscles.

  • Sit on the foam roll with the leg
  • Cross the leg of the side being rolled over the opposite knee
  • Slightly lean into that glute and roll
  • It’s a small movement

foam roll piriformis


This one is weird. I was thinking of ways to do upper body foam roll exercises and it was difficult. It’s a delicate area and though really roll anywhere along a muscle as long as you are not hurting anything, the problem would be if there was too much weight on such a delicate part as the shoulder capsule. The arms don’t weigh much unless you’re a super strong someone, so you can easily do them GENTLY. The same goes for the forearm if you needed it. 

  • Start lying on your stomach with the foam roll under one shoulder
  • Roll along the front of the shoulder
  • It’s a small space to roll on.
  • Don’t put much weight on it please

foam roll shoulders


Have you tried foam rolling exercises? Does it help your muscles feel better?

foam roll exercises

Fresh Fitness: Try foam roll exercises to decrease muscle soreness and feel good before or after exercising. 


Let's get healthy together!


  • Liz

    August 29, 2017

    Oh foam rolling! It hurts so good! haha I always have to actively convince myself to foam roll, but whenever I do I feel much better 🙂

    • Mindy Voet

      August 29, 2017

      You’re exactly right! It always taking convincing but worth it when that happens!


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