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How to use a foam roller

I was talking with my friend, Val, recently, and discovered I’d never told her about foam rolling. She’s a hairdresser, works hard with her hands outstretched at shoulder height hour after hour, day after day. If anyone’s a candidate for foam rolling, a hairdresser would surely be in the first balloting.

First you want to know what the heck is a foam roller. Simple: it’s a dense foam cylinder used (for this discussion; there are other uses) in self-massage of the legs and torso, and even for the front delts, triceps and forearms for the adventurous.

Think of it as a way to get a short massage daily, without driving anywhere or paying anything, where you get to zero in on exactly the spot the responds the most. Perfect! You’ll roll your way from calves to shoulders, staying on each muscle area for about ten short strokes, avoiding the joints and bony spots.

The key to enjoying the process and getting the most benefit is to settle in, relax and enjoy the process. Trying to hurry your way through this is a bit of a waste of time, unlikely to do much, even though it doesn’t take very long to run the body.

With regular foam rolling of the thoracic spine, my back stays loose and unbound, free and mobile with rare need of a chiropractor. Compared with pre-foam rolling, that alone is remarkable.

Those knots of spasming muscle you have, or those nasty, pain-referring adhesions in the fascia that connects the muscles into tendons and bones, those can all be released and relieved with your cheap home foam roller.

Calves, hamstrings, quads, IT band along the outside of the legs, glutes, spine, lats, back of the shoulder, front delts, triceps, top and bottom of the forearm, one tool, no waiting for a mate to feel like giving you a massage. I love this thing, and when you get one, if you have patience and try it daily for a week, you’ll love it, too.
I use a quick run over the foam roller as a pre-workout wake-up call that takes two minutes at most and prepares the mind and body for the warm-up moves to follow. Post-workout, five minutes becomes ten as the worked muscles welcome the gentle massage. A glance at the clock is required to remind me there’s still work to be done, time’s a’wasting.

It’s a wonderful feeling that will help athletes, week-end warriors, aging fitness enthusiasts, desk jockeys, hairdressers and construction workers alike. As those decades-old aches begin to diminish, you’re gonna write back and thank me for this one. In turn, I’ll refer you on to my pal, Dan Martin, who’ll tell you to thank Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. I pretty much lose the trail there, and cannot tell you who first began rolling or who invented the foam gizmo.

Here’s our forum conversation on foam rolling if you’d like to read more or join in the conversation. Quick pointer: Spend a few extra bucks for the black or blue EVA rollers; the white foam seems to crush too easily for all but the smallest of adults.


8 Responses to 'How to use a foam roller'

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  1. Gail Reed said,

    on March 27th, 2008 at 5:51 am

    Mr Draper,
    You are hot, hot, hot!!! I love the way your words flow. It’s poetic. You are so cool.
    I’m an unashamed fan of yours. You are doing a sterling job. I will continue to look forward to your self effacing emails. You have a beautiful and intelligent mind. Why don’t you write a book?

  2. EGA said,

    on March 27th, 2008 at 9:24 am

    …And the wheel it turns round and round… it seems Gail hasn’t discovered your books yet! I did… But I got there via Cbass.com and I got to him from somewhere else and on and on! But it was once summer back in 1962 and the 12 yr. old version of me picked up his first ‘muscle building mag.’ and there was this blonde ‘teenager’ -was it ‘World’s strongest youth’ or perhaps ‘most perfectly developed teenager’… just what every paperboy of the day aspired to be! Well, those wheels turned, and so did 30 yrs. of career, the couch and 100 extra lbs. of weight! Now, 58 yrs. old and 97.4 lbs lighter, it’s about dumbbells, kettlebells, rowing, Pilates, and yoga! And if that’s not enough, that image from 1962 reappears in my life, on the Internet… Keep it up Dave, all of it… The books, the writing the workouts, and reflections, and listen to your friend Clarence Bass -he’s high on cardio (and older than you). Dave, keep it up and keep sharing… I’m sorry I was MIA for 3 decades but it’s nice to know in your case ‘iron never rusts’! My best always…


  3. on March 29th, 2008 at 8:10 am

    I enjoy an old tennis ball for that smaller, hard reach spots. This may take some working up to however, in ‘pain threshold’ terms.


  4. on March 30th, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    I think foam rollers like the Swiss Ball came across from the PT/Physiotherapy world. I think they are a good tool but like any tool should not be overused.


  5. on December 17th, 2008 at 8:34 am

    Hey guys the first article ever published on full body foam rolling was on Power Systems equipment by myself in 2002. You can obtain a copy of how to roll the full body at http://www.kineticloop.org/articles.htm. Have fun.

    My Best,
    Michael Lovegren M.S.

  6. David said,

    on January 27th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    First article ever, huh?

    Funny, I could swear there was an article published by Alan Russell and the NASM back in 2000, titled Self-Myofascial Release Techniques, “Would you believe that your client’s function could be improved for less than $20?”

    Seem to be stretching the truth a little bit there Michael…

  7. Michael said,

    on February 2nd, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    David, you are correct. I did not know about NASM article in 2000. Although, I don’t believe NASM article to be complete with all the exercises for the whole body. I have been doing foam rolling since 1999. I wrote the article to help my clients as well as other to realize how fun the foam roller can be. It is a great tool that can aid any athlete, whether life or professional to roll out those knots. I believe my article was written on December 2001 and published January or February 2002. Have fun foam rolling wish you the best.

  8. Rey said,

    on May 11th, 2010 at 5:48 am

    I work for Power Systems, and noticed the article mentioned here is a dead-end so I went hunting for it and instead found these. I hope these are useful:

    http://www.power-systems.com/n-255-foam-rollers-add-a-new-dimension-to-your-pilates-workout.aspx

    http://www.power-systems.com/n-233-foam-rollers-a-balancing-act-for-clients.aspx

    http://www.power-systems.com/n-128-ready-to-roll.aspx

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