What Is A Foam Roller For? – Foam Roller Types/Foam Roller Exercises

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What is a foam roller for? These “magical rollers” come in an incredible variety of sizes, shapes, firmness, and uses.

People use the term “foam rollers” quite loosely. So when we talk about what foam rollers do, this category can literally include hundreds of different types.

This article aims to give you more information on foam roller benefits and well as the many uses. We will briefly describe some of these other important types of fitness and massage rollers.

What’s a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is an essential workout tool and rehab instrument that relieves sore muscles, and helps improve posture, and can dozens of other uses. They are also known to be beneficial before, during, and after workouts.

Foam roller exercises for back pain are their most notable use, but there are dozens of other uses from stretching to physical therapy that we will talk about. Usually made of foam, they are also made of many other composites, rubbers, and plastics.

Read on to know more about foam rollers and what they are for.

What is a foam roller for - Woman using foam roller for quadriceps massage

What Is a Foam Roller for?

Foam rollers can be effective for so many things, starting with spicing up your warm-up and cool-down exercises. These uses also extend into almost any sport for stretching, getting limber, working out muscle and joint aches, and helping with fitness performance in general. The many benefits of foam rolling can vary from one person to the other.

For those unfamiliar, a foam roller is a recovery and performance tool that offers a cheaper yet effective alternative for deep tissue massages and stretching. This tool is most often used in ‘self-myofascial release’ or in simpler terms, foam rolling.

To elaborate, it releases painful and uncomfortable knots that have formed in your muscles and stimulates smooth blood flow that improves overall performance.

What is a fitness roller for? Fitness rollers are basically for the same things but this is a broader name. Both foam and fitness rollers can include soft or firm rollers, textured rollers, roller wheels, foam roller balls, stick rollers

What are Foam Rollers Used For?

In general, foam rollers have the following uses:

  • Muscle relief
  • Chronic back pain relief
  • Better posture
  • Better sleep
  • Protection from injuries
  • Flexibility
  • Stiffness and soreness
  • Workout recovery

We will go into more detail about, what are benefits of a foam roller in the section below.

What Do Foam Rollers Do, And Do Foam Rollers Really Work?

Self-massaging is a struggle a lot of people deal with. The older you get, the sorer your muscles get from the simplest things like lifting, sitting too long, or sleeping at a certain position. What’s worse is that regular self-massaging provides little to no relief.

Luckily, foam rollers can be of significant help with that. They are proven to be an effective tool in both the fitness industry and rehab. Foam rollers are recommended by athletes, trainers, professionals, and physical therapists.

Myofacial Release or Trigger Points

One of the significant foam rollers uses allows you to effectively self-massage tense muscles and knots. These areas are referred to as the “trigger points“.

By lying on your foam roller with it placed underneath your body, you then proceed to roll slowly over the stiff areas. After a while, you will notice that your muscles will relax and slowly feel better. This process is called “myofascial release”.

When you use foam rollers for myofascial release, the once tense muscles get smoothed out and are reintroduced to fluids, as the process also promotes blood flow. Because of this, your body can perform better and heal faster. Think about the resiliency of a wet sponge compared to a dry sponge per se.

What is a foam roller for - Woman using foam roller on side

Which Foam Roller to Buy

What type of foam roller to look for is important as well, so this means that your preferences and purpose should be clearly laid out. If you’re a newbie, then you might want to start off with a more relaxing session and choose the smooth and less firm rollers in your preferred size.

However, if you’re not new to the activity, then you might be looking for something that gives you a deeper tissue massage. For this, firm and textured rollers are recommended.

What to Look for in A Foam Roller

There are 3 main features to consider in choosing a foam roller: texture, intensity, and size.

  • Texture

Some rollers are smooth and some are textured. Smooth rollers are for more relaxed foam rolling sessions, whereas heavily textured foam rollers are for precise trigger spot targeting.

  • Intensity

How firm your roller is will determine your experience. Soft rollers will give you a gentler massage, while firm rollers offer deeper and more intense massages.

  • Size

Smaller sized rollers are portable and can target trigger spots more precisely, while larger rollers provide more stability during the exercises and a wider target range.

What Is the Best Type of Foam Roller?

The ‘best’ kind of foam roller is subjective to you. It ultimately boils down to the user’s personal preference and purpose.

For beginners who are just starting out or even those who already have a significant amount of experience in foam rolling, experimenting on the kinds of rollers. This is so you can carefully identify which is the best roller that can meet all your needs and preferences at once.

As mentioned, the effects vary from one person to another. Thus, it’s important to remember that just because it works excellently on someone else doesn’t mean it will work the same for you. Every individual has trigger points, muscle aches, and flexibility will be different depending on body type, muscle mass, gender, and other factors.

Types of Foam Rollers

There are different types of rollers to suit users’ preferences. Each one of them has its own unique feature, so it would be best to get to know every one of them before settling for one.

  • Smooth Rollers

Like its name, these rollers have a smooth surface and are the least expensive. Smooth rollers are best for beginners at the craft because of their even texture.

What is a foam roller for - Rumblerollers textured foam rollers
  • Textured Rollers

Unlike smooth rollers, textured rollers have knobs and ridges on their surface that work deeper into the muscles. This allows them to smooth out knots and tense muscles more quickly.

  • Massage Wheels

Mostly pictured for use on the back, this foam massage wheel is made to support natural spine movement, flexibility, and mobility. Not only do they feel good to use, but they will also target trigger points in your body and release knots.

What is a foam roller for - The Orb extreme foam massage ball
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  • Foam Massage Balls

These rollers are specifically for targeted areas like shoulders, arms, and other body parts that need to be targeted. So if you can precisely pinpoint your body’s trigger point, then this would be best for you.

What is a foam roller for - Grid STK foam roller
  • Foam-covered Massage Sticks

These rollers are often used to massage your upper back and legs, relieving sore points.

Other Types of Foam Rollers

Aside from the above here are just a few examples of the many kinds of foam rollers, here are other types of rollers based on their materials:

  • PE Foam Rollers

PE foam rollers are made of Polyethylene and are considered the ‘standard’ type of roller. These are also the least firm type and are best suited for beginners. They tend to be the least expensive and can wear out the quickest.

  • EVA Foam Rollers

These rollers are made of Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, which is lightweight and highly durable. They are shock absorbent and are the ideal foam rollers in gyms and clinics.

  • EPP Foam Rollers

EPP foam rollers that are made of Expanded Polypropylene are the firmest rollers. They are suitable for moderate to heavy use as well as being recommended to advanced users.

What Are the Benefits of a Foam Roller?

Aside from allowing you to effectively relieve sore muscles without having to pay a visit to a massage therapist, regular foam rolling also has a lot of health benefits that may vary from one person to another.

Here are some more in-depth effective foam roller uses and benefits:

  • Foam Rollers Relieve Muscle Pain and Stiffness

Strenuous activities and staying in an unnatural position for long periods of time tend to stress out muscles, resulting in pain and stiffness. The longer you keep at it, the more discomfort you will feel. By foam rolling, these tense muscles will decompress and slowly restore back to their natural state.

  • Foam Rollers Increase Range of Motion

Foam rolling does not only restores muscle strength but also thoroughly enhances its elasticity as soon as it is relieved from the knots that have formed over time. These knots deprive muscles of fluid, thus limiting their abilities. However, as soon as they have recovered, your muscles can perform at their best without getting heavily strained.

What is a foam roller for - Man using foam roller on back
  • Foam Rollers Relieve Back Pain

Although foam rolling cannot permanently fix chronic back pain, it can help lessen inflammation and relieve the painful knots that may have formed. Being able to ease the pain allows you to have more activities and tasks done. For people with chronic back pain, regular inversion therapy together with foam rolling is highly recommended in your recovery journey.

  • Provides Relaxation

Even rest days won’t feel like it when you have sore muscles all over your body. With the help of foam rolling, you can ease the painful areas in your body and enjoy better sleep and leisure activities without having to deal with physical pain.

  • Improves Posture

Foam rolling can also realign the spine and lower back, flatten out your shoulders and strengthen your core muscles, allowing you to have a better posture. Having a better posture will make you crouch less and help you avoid putting too much pressure on your back. A foam roller for stretching can do wonders.

What Kind of Exercises Can You Do with A Foam Roller?

There are a plethora of foam roller exercises you can do with foam rollers and it ultimately depends on what areas you are targeting.

Foam roller stretching exercises would be enough material for a future review, so we will stick to some basic moves. If you’re new to foam rolling, then here are some exercises that you can do to ease muscle pain and stiffness at home:

  • Quads

For sore quads, lay in a plank position with your foam roller under your quads. Then, slowly roll back and forth until it reaches just above your knee then back. When you reach a painful spot, hold yourself for a few seconds before continuing. Repeat for 30 seconds.

  • Hip Flex

In the same plank position, place your roller below your left hip flexor with your right knee bent sideways comfortably. Then, slowly roll side to side and up and down the roller. Repeat for 30 seconds.

  • Calves

Sit on the floor and extend your legs with your foam roller underneath your calves. Raise your body with your weight on the roller and then slowly roll your calves back and forth with the support from your arms. Repeat for 30 seconds.

What is a foam roller for - Woman using foam roller for IT band massage
  • IT Band

Start with a side plank with your foam roller under the area between your glutes and knee. Keep your legs straight as you roll back and forth. Repeat for 30 seconds. In some cases, this foam rolling exercise can be a therapeutic way to reduce knee pain.

  • Upper back

Foam rollers for the back are one of the most effective uses. Lay on your back with knees bent and your foam roller under your upper back. Your feet should be flat on the ground as you lift yourself into a low bridge and roll yourself back and forth between the neck and mid-back. Repeat for 30 seconds.

How Often to Use a Foam Roller, and How Long to Use a Foam Roller?

The recommended frequency of foam rolling is around 10 minutes a day, 2 to 3 times a week. However, you can opt to increase up to thrice a day as long as it does not worsen your physical condition. Foam rolling can be excruciating, so it would be best to rest every now and then.

Personally, I only use my foam rollers as needed. However, during past injuries, I have gone with my therapists’ foam roller instructions.

What Is A Foam Roller For – Wrap Up

Foam rollers offer many different physical benefits before, during, and even after your workout sessions. They are also a vital part of physical rehabilitation programs and are used by athletes and even professional trainers.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced foam-rolling fan, they can be an amazing kind of fitness tool you must definitely include in your physical fitness routine.

Foam rollers come in dozens of shapes, sizes and for specific uses, so be sure to get the best foam roller to help achieve your fitness goals.

If you have any questions or comments on what a foam roller is for, please leave a message below and I will respond.

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Steve Hall

I've been training since I was a teenager and started this site to help others get the most out of their workouts. I look forward to sharing a ton of useful information about this awesome topic.

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