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5 Foam Roller Power Moves to Tackle Tension and Soreness

A woman in a gym kneeling on one knee with her other leg bent, her arm resting on a foam roller.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Knowing how to foam roll properly is one of the keys to the fountain of youth. In order for your body to function at its optimal level, every cell needs to be nourished, fueled, and energized.

Over the last few years, we’ve been seeing everything from infrared saunas and cryotherapy to specific types of massage and detox novelties. But foam rolling requires minimal time, effort, and investment, and brings incredible results.

Working the fascia and muscle fibers not only reduces soreness and muscle fatigue, but also breaks down lactic acid, stimulates lymph flow (the body’s detoxing system), and improves blood flow. It also eliminates inflammation and any stress your body’s accumulated.

You can perform these five foam roller moves first thing in the morning, after a workout, or even in the evening before you go to bed.

Quadricep Roll

A woman in a gym doing a quad roll with her left leg on a foam roller.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

We ain’t gonna lie—this one hurts in the beginning. But it’s that “good” kind of pain you feel during a deep tissue massage. Still, it takes some time to get used to. If you breathe deeply, it will help, but also remember you control how much pressure you put on the roller. People tend to forget this and apply their full body weight, killing those poor quads.

First and foremost, make sure you’re somewhere in the center of the roller so you don’t slip to the sides. Square your hips and find good leverage on your forearms, pressing them firmly into the ground. Activate your abs to protect your lower back and gently start rolling up and down, massaging the whole muscle as you go.

Try to relax your glutes and really feel the muscle getting warm and relaxed by the repetitive rolling. Work on the whole muscle, from your hip flexor to your knee. Work each leg for around two minutes.

Glute and Hamstring Roll

A woman in a gym sitting on a foam roller with one leg crossed over the other.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Our glutes and hamstrings are pretty sensitive. And due to the sedentary lives we all lead, they’re also usually extremely tight and one of the major culprits of lower back pain. Rolling them on the regular helps alleviate any back discomfort and tightness. It can also relieve any tension in the hips or sacrum, keep your blood flowing, and reduce water retention. Again, you control the level of pressure, so ease up if it starts to get painful.

Using your upper body and arms for leverage, sit on the roller and cross one leg over the other. Isolating the muscles is the best way to make sure you’re really digging in and breaking down that lactic acid.

Slowly start moving forward and backward, finding the right tempo. If you find a really sore spot, stay on it for a few deep breaths. Gently massage it using tiny circular movements until you feel the knot getting softer.

When you’re done, extend your leg and roll the hamstring the same way you did your quad. Your leg should be fully extended from your sit bones to the back of your knee (but avoid rolling the back of your knee).

Calf Roll

A woman in a gym foam rolling her calves.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Believe it or not, our calves are one of the muscles we use most—and they’re tiny compared to the rest. That’s why it’s extremely important we keep them healthy and functioning optimally. If you make foam rolling part of your daily routine, it can help you prevent tons of problems in the future (including vein issues).

Whether you focus on each calf or work them both simultaneously is entirely up to you. You can roll up and down, as well as make tiny moves from side to side, massaging the whole area all the way to your shins.

Latissimus Roll

A woman in a gym with a foam roller under her right arm.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Getting deep into your lats isn’t very comfortable. In the beginning, you might think you’re doing something wrong. This is because this area of your body isn’t as muscley or meaty as your legs or your back. Finding that spot right under your shoulder blade is tough, but once you get the grip, it’s one of those power moves you’ll never want to miss. Think of it as more of a stretch than a roll, and focus on extending the muscle as much as possible.

Lie on your back and place the roller under your shoulder blade. Extend your arm and relax it completely, allowing the roller to settle in. Take a deep breath and, using your other hand for leverage, push yourself toward your legs and stretch out your lat.

Breathe into the stretch and slowly find your way upward toward your armpit (but avoid the armpit itself). Take your time with this exercise as it’s a very delicate part of your body.

IT Band

A woman in a gym resting on her right arm and foam rolling her right thigh.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Working on the IT band is a definite power move, but it’s very easy to do wrong. This is a part of the body that always hurts when you foam roll it. A lot of people tell you that you need to feel the pain because it means you’re breaking down the knots and lactic acid. However, the IT band isn’t a muscle, but rather, a strong fibrous tissue (similar to a tendon). If you roll it too much, that can irritate it even more, causing more tightness and inflammation.

You should roll over the IT band after you work all the muscles surrounding it (the glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings). Spend less than one minute on each leg.

Focus on rolling the outside of your thigh between your hip and knee. Again, less is more—do as little IT band rolling as it takes to get the release and results you want.

One to two minutes of foam rolling each muscle is more than enough. Overdoing it can release too many toxins in your body and increase inflammation—moderation is key!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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