Crossfit Blog

DAC PT Guide to Foam Rolling

in The Whiteboard by Lindsay

May 11th was National Foam Rolling Day, so we couldn't think of a better time to discuss this form of SMR [self myofascial release]. Your friends at DAC PT put together a comprehesive guide for your foam rolling pleasure!


The Foam Roller: a force for good, or an unassuming torture device?

Walk into the warm-up/cool-down area of any gym and you’ll notice a few wincing faces of people dragging their muscles along foam cylinders. Despite it being used as an SMR technique for a long time, foam rolling has gained some popularity in recent years, with some of your average gym go-ers not quite knowing what they're doing or why they're doing it. It’s used to help “loosen” tight muscles and break up soreness, which can be a very helpful tool for recovery. However, if you’ve ever tested this method for yourself, then you know that it often feels more like a punishment than a recovery aid. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing it incorrectly, but it’s important to understand the proper method to ensure that the discomfort you’re feeling is normal.

We're big fans of the foam roller over at DAC PT, but we notice a lot of common mistakes in technique that could potentially be doing more harm than good. So, although it may appear that someone is just mindlessly moving their body over the roller, there are some very specific do’s and don’ts to ensure safe and effective rolling.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here is a quick background on the technique:
Foam rolling has been used for a long time as a post-workout aid, as a way to speed up the recovery process. It is by definition a type of self myofascial release. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’re releasing the fascia on your own body. Think of fascia as a tightly woven sock that surrounds your muscles to keep them all together. This can often feel tight or sensitive due to inflammation in a particular area caused by exercise.

Foam Rolling 101

Steer clear of certain areas
We know that foam rolling is good for us and is often prescribed by physical therapists, personal trainers, yoga instructors, naturopaths, etc. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about foam rolling that are often not discussed. An example of this is the Iliotibial band or ITB- this is the area on the lateral [outer] portion of the leg that starts at the hip and connects down towards the outer portion of your knee. This area is often rolled with the intention to loosen or even release the tightness in the ITB. Unfortunately, this is not the actual result. The ITB is more of a track of tendons rather than what you might think of as a “band”. There is a greater chance of you causing more damage to this set of tendons than getting it to “release”. We can discuss this in more detail in a future post, but for now it’s important to understand that when it comes to this type of connective tissue, attempting to roll it out puts you at an increased risk of creating more inflammation and stress to the body.
Here are a few areas to avoid when foam rolling:
o   ITB
o   the Achilles tendon
o   behind the knee
o   the low back
o   areas of intense pain

Take it easy
We learned that some areas are just not worth rolling, but we should also be taking care of the areas that will benefit from it. Don't spend too much time rolling out one area of knotted tissue; less is more when it comes to foam rolling. Remember that you are using pressure to force out knots, inflammation, and tightly knit tissue, so pushing too hard or too long in one area may end up irritating that spot even further. You do not want to work against yourself and end up creating more problems than what you started with.

Below we’ve provided a basic foam rolling program to get you started. Be sure to use supervision if you are not sure how to complete any of these movements. Remember that mobility should be a part of any exercise program to maintain proper posture and avoid injuries. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us


Total Body Foam Rolling Program:

Important tips:

  • Stay in the “meat” of the muscle
  • Avoid the joints by roughly 3 fingers length
  • Complete in the order the program follows
  • Work the entirety of the muscle
  • Do not overdo it. If an area is particularly sensitive, do not spend all of your time on that area
  • You may repeat each movement twice, for 30 seconds each. Be sure to switch each time.

1. Calves:
Place foam roller underneath the larger muscle of your lower leg (gastroc), slowly roll up and down the calf for roughly 30 seconds. Once done, switch legs. During this movement, you should have both hands behind you with your palms flat on the ground fingers pointing behind you.

2. Peroneus: (side of your calf)
Place the foam roller on the outer portion of your lower legs, roughly 3 inches from the knee and slowly work up and down the muscle for 30 seconds. Do the same on the opposite side. During this movement, you should be in a position that mimics a side plank with a sag at the hips to the floor.

3. Hamstring: (back of your leg)
Place the foam roller underneath your leg from a seated position, roughly 3 inches from where your butt meets your legs. Slowly roll down the leg and pause roughly 3 inches before you hit the back of your knee and slowly work back up the leg again. Do this for about 30 seconds. During this movement, you should be seated on the floor with your hands back behind you, fingers pointing away. Try to place most of your weight over the leg you wish to roll, and switch.

4. Adductor: (inside of your leg)
Lay the foam roller down at a 45 degree angle and get your body into a prone [chest down] position. With the leg you wish to roll, drape the inside of the leg over the roller. You will use your opposite leg and both arms to pull yourself front to back over the roller. Be careful with this movement to avoid injury. Slowly work up and down the leg stopping at the bottom 3 inches before you hit the knee. Continue this for 30 seconds and then switch. 

5. Glutes:
Lay the foam roller at a 45 degree angle away from you and sit down on the middle of the roller. From here, outstretch the rolling leg and brace up on the opposite foot. Using both hands slowly work up and down the glute for 30 seconds and then switch.

6. Quads:
Turn the foam roller lengthwise and get into a prone position with the foam roller underneath you. Position yourself so the roller sits on the upper portion of your quad. Using both hands out in front of you and the opposite leg, work up and down the quad stopping about 3 inches before the knee and 3 inches before the hip. Do this for 30 seconds and switch.

7. Tensor Fascia Latae(TFL) or (upper lateral side of leg)
Position the foam roller as if you were going to roll out your quads, then turn your hips out so the roller is on the hip/side of your quad. Move yourself up and down this area about 3-5 inches, slowly. This is a very sensitive area so be careful. It may also take you a few tries to find the proper positioning.  Do this for about 30 seconds and switch.

8. Lats (the “wings” of your back)
Place the foam roller lengthwise on the ground and lay on your side with the roller near your armpit. Keeping the bottom leg in an outstretched position, bend the top leg and place the foot on the floor in a comfortable position for bracing/creating movement. Work the foam roller up just before the armpit, and down the lat about 3-4 inches before you get to the low back/hips. Continue this movement slowly for 30 seconds.


Finish it off by hitting the thoracic spine:


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