Training Ground

Top 5 Foam Roller Exercises

Top 5 Foam Roller Exercises

Foam rollers have been one of the best additions to the gym. Essentially, they are the cheap and affordable version of a massage anyone can do for muscles and the fascia that encases it.

SMR stands for Self Myofascial Release, which means helping to loosen ones own muscle fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that encases muscles. Fascial chains refer to the network of fascia that travel through the body. These essentially connect the body together, meaning that one area being tight pulls on another, creating a ripple effect or chain reaction. This is where SMR comes in. Using one large size foam roller costing a few dollars from nearly any fitness section of any big box store, you can get those chains to release tension. Here are our top 5 foam roller exercises to release fascia and work out spots of tension:  

Foam Roll IT Band

IT Band

This is a classic. The iliotibial band is a very strong fascia that runs from the ilium down to below the knee joint, along the lateral side of the thigh. This chain is commonly tight in people who run, cycle, lift weights, and nearly any other sport. To release it, roll the length of it, along the grain of the tissue.

Place the roller perpendicular to your leg, lying on the roller with your outer thigh. Place both hands on the floor for support. Extend the leg that you will be working on throughout the entire movement. Place the opposite side foot in front of the affected leg, with the sole of your foot planted on the floor. This gives you a pivot to push and pull off.
Start the role just below the hip joint and roll yourself the entire length of the upper leg, stopping just above the knee. Avoid rolling over bony joints. There may be some knots that are quite painful. Move slowly over these sections. While some pain is normal and expected, there is no need to suffer; lift some weight off the foam roller if you feel a lot of excess pain.

Foam Roll Lats


Rolling the lats using a full size foam roller at the upper back is a great way to improve mobility of the lats. Here, you’ll be rolling the length of your upper body. To release the lats, lie on your back on the roller, slightly rotated to one side. The lats run from the posterior head of the humerus to the scapula and then all the way down the mid back, attaching at the pelvis. The usual tight spot is between the humerus and the scapula.

Set the roller in the space between these two structures and lift your arm straight over your head. Pain? Sit on any of those painful spots for a few seconds breathing deeply until it releases and becomes less painful.

Foa Roll Glutes


Tight glutes are notorious for causing low back pain. There is so much muscle tissue in here, designed to support upright beings. When we spend a lot of time sitting, the glutes can stop working, tend to become very weak and are often tight.

To release the glutes, sit on a foam roller with both cheeks. Then, pick the right side to start with. Lean back and place both hands behind you for support. Lift the right leg off the floor and cross the left ankle over the right knee. Lift your left hand off the floor to support at the ankle joint as well. Your roller should be in the soft part of the glute, and you can pivot up and down to make it roll from the iliac crest at the top down to the ischial tuberosity (often called the “butt bone”) at the bottom. 



The quads carry a lot of tension in people who lift frequently, especially if you squat regularly. Foam rolling these guys is quick and simple. Just start at the very top of the muscle and roll the whole length, to the top of the knee, without going over the patella. You might try to focus on one at a time, leaning more to the left and right, targeting the lateral, medial, and then anterior aspects of the quads. 

Foam Roll Lower Back

Lower back

The lower back is a classic spot for pain and soreness. The lower back is so important because it plays a connecting roll between the upper and lower limbs. This is a point of adaptation in the body. The lower back and lumbar spine accommodate for other areas of weakness and imbalance. A good myofascial release here goes a long way!

Sit on a foam roller that is perpendicular to your spine. Place your hands behind you for balance to start. Push yourself forwards to take the roller over the hip bones and into the fascia that surrounds your lower back. Because of the awkward position, you will only be able to roll halfway up your spine. Try to work in sections rather than finishing the whole length at once.

Roll each section for about 60 seconds for best results. Never roll over bones and always respect your pain threshold.

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Christie Leclair
Christie Leclair - Author

FD Bulsara, BSc is a competitive athlete in Olympic weightlifting and a student in Osteopathy. She coaches private and group fitness classes and freelance writing about her passions: fitness, health, sport, nutrition, weightlifting, CrossFit, injury prevention, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and the latest research on all these topics! She is a dog person and spends free time training at the lake. Find her at

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