Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Get Rolling!!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years you’ve heard of foam rolling, or more specifically, self myofascial release (SMFR). In my last blog I went through a detailed explanation of why it’s important, how it affects the target tissue (fascia), when to roll, how long to roll, where and where not to roll…basically everything but the actual technique.  If you haven’t read that yet I recommend that you check it out HERE either before or after reading this.

This blog is going to exclusively cover the technique and show how to roll pretty much every major muscle in the body. Below I go though each area individually and at the very end I’ve got a video of how to put it all together in a nice routine. This will save time as you can just smoothly move from one area to the next.

Let’s get stuck in!


-          Place one thigh on the foam roller.
-          Support your body weight with your hands (making sure you keep your shoulder down) and your opposite leg.
-          Roll over the length of your hamstring, from the base of your butt to just above the bend in your knee.
-          If it feels ok lift your supporting leg off the ground and cross it on top of the leg you’re targeting.
-          Make sure to hit the whole back side of your thigh – rotate your thigh in for a few passes and then out for a few more.

Itobial Band (ITB)

-          Place the outside of your thigh on the foam roller.
-          Support your upper body by placing your elbow on the ground. You can place your top hand on the ground for additional support.
-          If you are tight place your top foot on the ground and push it into the ground so that you put less body weight on the foam roller.
-          The leg you are rolling should stay extended.
-          Roll the full length of your ITB, from the outside of your hip to the outside of your knee.
-          This is normally a very tight area so micro rolls are good for tight areas, or stopping right on top of a tight spot and focus on belly breathing.
-          Stack the legs on top of each other to increase pressure.


-          You can roll both quads at the same time but I don’t love this as it’s harder to move to the outside and inside of your quads, hitting all aspects. Therefore, I do one leg at a time.
-          Place your target thigh on the foam roller, elbows on the ground in a plank-like position.
-          If you want less pressure bend your opposite hip and knee and place your leg beside you on the ground. A nice bonus of doing this is you get some hip mobility as you roll back and forth.
-          Make sure you do full passes; front of the hip to just above the knee cap.
-          You can army crawl with your forearms to allow you to make full passes.
-          Make sure to keep your core tight enough so that your low back doesn’t sag down. Neutral spine at all times.
-          Slow down and allow your quads to melt over the foam roller. Most people are so tight here that they tense up, speed up and then tell me they don’t feel tight at all. Move slowly and relax.

Hip Flexors (TFL)

-          Same set up as when you’re rolling your quads only this time you are looking for a kind of notch right at your hip crease (where you hip bends when you bring your knee to your chest).
-          You can try and roll directly on the front of your hip but I find most people don’t feel much here as the roller just cannot get deep enough.
-          Therefore, aim to roll at kind of 45 degrees (not the side, not the front, right in between). Here you will find your TFL.
-          This can be so tight that rolling isn’t an option. If so, just get right on top of it and focus on your breathing.
-          If you want to put more pressure on it just lift the foot of the leg you’re rolling.


-          The easiest way to get into the position is to stay in a plank, then sweep one leg (the leg you want to roll) out to the side. Place the foam roller perpendicular to your leg and then rest on top of it. From here you can start to roll in a kind of diagonal movement.
-          Generally most people are tight close to the knee and where the thigh joins the hips. Dudes, be careful not to roll anything important when you’re working up high.
-          I said it before and I’ll say it again; full passes please.


-          Place one butt cheek on the roller with your arms supporting your upper body.
-          To line the foam roller up with the fiber direction of your glutes you should have the roller facing out to the side about 30-45 degrees.
-          You can roll from the very top of your hips (glute med) all the ways down to the top of your hamstrings.
-          If you want to put a bit more focus on your piriformis place the ankle of the side you’re trying to roll on your opposite knee. You might find a little notch that’s tight – well done! You’ve found your piriformis. Hang out on that spot for a while.
-          I like to roll my glutes with both a straight leg and when my ankle is on my opposite knee. Each way gets different things in different ways.


-          In the video above I show 2 different ways to roll the calves; with a foam roller, and a tennis ball
-          Foam Roller
-          Place one calf on the roller and lift your butt off the ground by pushing your hands into the ground.
-          Make sure you keep your shoulders away from your ears by actively pushing them towards the floor. 
-          This can be a challenging position for the shoulders so take breaks if needed. Don’t keep rolling if your shoulder is in your ear!
-          As full passes of the calf can be hard, especially if you need to do a lot of them, I like to break the calf up into two halves; the Achilles tendon and below the muscle belly, and the top half.
-          Make sure to rotate your foot so that it’s pointing in for a few passes and out for a few more. Hit every angle!
-          Tennis Ball
-          Start off in a half kneeling position, tennis ball in hand and pressed up against the calf.
-          As you drive your knee over your second toe push the tennis ball into your calf and move your hand towards your heal.
-          When you bring your knee back allow the ball to roll back to the starting point and repeat.
-          I like to work the Achilles tendon first and then move up to where the muscle belly starts (where the two bellies of the gastrocnemius attach to the soleus). The combo of the tennis ball and the movement of the ankle is particularly good for this area.

Perionels & Tibilas Anterior

-          Same set up as the ITB only this time you are placing the side of your lower leg on the foam roller.
-          Again, feel free to use your top leg as support.
-          Make sure to keep you core tight if you are stacking your legs on top of each other. View this as a moving side plank.
-          Work the outside of your lower leg (perionels), and the front, just to the outside of your shine bone (tibilas anterior).
-          This is a particularly important area to roll if you are running a lot and can help prevent shin splints.

T-Spine & Lats

-          Sit on the ground and place the foam roller in a position so that when you lean back your mid back makes contact with it.
-          Support your head with your hands and bring your elbows together in order to move your shoulder blades out of the way.
-          Push your heals into the ground to lift your hips off the ground.
-          Work from the top of your shoulders to the bottom or your rib cage by pulling and pushing the ground with your feet.
-          Rolling your lower back is not recommended as your internal organs don’t have the support of your rib cage.
-          If you find a tight spot in your mid back, position yourself on top of it and then place your butt on the ground. Slightly tuck your pelvis so that you don’t arch your lower back. Hold that position as you try to extend back on the foam roller. Don’t force it and don’t allow your head to drop back – keep your chin within a fist distance to your breast bone. 

Plantar Fascia

-          Place your foot on top of a tennis ball and put some of your body weight on top of it. Vary how much depending on how it feels. If you’re just crushing the tennis ball to feel anything switch to a lacrosse ball.
-          Roll the whole underside of the foot working from the toes to heal.
-          I like to do a few passes where I go from the big toe to the heel, then a few from the second toe to the heal, third, fourth and fifth, you get the drift.
-          Make sure to work slow and deep.
-          I sometimes find that it’s tight where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel. For this area I like to place my toes on the ground and move my heel from side to side.
-          Make sure to practice your soccer skills when the ball shoots out from under your foot when you’re working on the edges!


-          Place a tennis ball between a wall and your chest.
-          You can alternate the pressure by pushing your body into the wall using your legs.
-          Start working your pec by moving your torso back and forth. In general try to work on lines that start on your breast bone and move towards your shoulder as this will line up with the fiber direction of the pec.
-          Try a few passes with your arm by your side and with your arm raised up about 45 degrees.

Lats (and the Teres group)

-          Extend your arm above your head so that you expose your lats (side of your rib cage).
-          Place the tennis ball just behind your arm pit and push into the wall using your legs.
-          Bend and extend your knees so that you can work in a more vertical line.
-          Feel free to rotate your torso a bit to explore different areas.
-          Although it’s not shown in the video you can also roll into your triceps in this position by just placing the tennis ball higher up on the wall.

Posterior Shoulder (with epic music!)

-          Place the tennis ball on one side of your mid back and put pressure against the wall.
-          WARNING – this is normally a mine field of knots so take it easy, you’re not going to break everything up in one session.
-          You can work everything from you spine (without going over it) to the shoulder.
-          Most people are tight everywhere so just experiment and find your tightest spots.
-          When I find a really tight spot I like to stop moving when the ball is right on top of it and then start to reach my arm across my body in different angels (low, med, high). This forces the shoulder blade to move and can expose the knots better.
-          Holding your arm in this extended or reaching position while continuing to roll can be great too.
-          If you’re spending time in here with a tennis ball you simply have to do mid back strengthening during your workout. Any type of pulling movement is good. 

EVERYTHING put together into a routine

Note:  I rolled everything for the purpose of this video. If it's your first time on a foam roller you might want to do this too to find which areas are tightest. After that a full body roll isn't necessary. Give foam rolling 10 mins at the start of your warm up, that's it. The last thing I want to see is people spending 60 mins on a foam roller and calling it a "workout". Focus on your tight spots and feel free to skip over the areas that feel good. You can also make it workout specific e.g. when I'm going to do deadlifts I'll focus more on my hips, when I'm going to do squats I'll focus more on my lower leg to try and open up my locked up ankles.

Finally, this isn't meant to represent the only way to foam roll. There are numerous ways to hit every muscle. Feel free to play around with it a little.

So that's everything folks! This blog might have taken a year out of my life so I hope that it achieved what it set out to do, get people confident with rolling so that you do it on a regular basis. If you are looking for any additional advice on rolling outside of the actual technique check out my previous blog HERE.

Cian Lanigan

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