Foam Rolling For Dummies
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Rollers aren’t for everyone, but for 80 percent of us, rollers rock! Take a look at 10 groups of people who love rollers. Much like the happy man in the figure, these ten groups are different in many ways, but what they share is simple:
Rollers help them continue to __________.
What they put in the blank is up to them. It can be a popular sport like running or biking. It can be a strenuous workout like cross training or weightlifting. It can be a very personal activity like walking with a grandchild or recovering from a major surgery.

The “what” in the blank isn’t important; it’s personal, as it should be. The gratifying point here is that rollers help people return to doing what they love to do.

What will you put in the blank?

foam roller lover Photography by Haim Ariav & Klara Cu

It’s hard to hide this kind of love!

So, who are these ten groups who love rollers? Read on and find out!

Stiff or inflexible people

If you’re one of those individuals who always feels stiff and tight, you’ll love rolling. Blame it on genetics, posture, age, or your lifestyle, but the fact is you may never have been overly flexible. A roller will plow through your tight muscles and fascia in minutes, giving you more flexibility than you may have gained following 30 minutes of boring stretching.

The injury-prone

The unfortunate people who always seem to be injured and in pain need to use a roller daily for injury prevention. Keeping muscles, tendons, fascia, and joints moving properly will reduce the risk of soft-tissue injury. By maintaining your flexibility and staying injury-free with your rollers, you’ll achieve these three things:
  • You’ll save pain.
  • You’ll save time.
  • You’ll save money.


By now you know how effective rollers are for keeping your muscles and fascia pliable, limber, and elastic. In other words, rollers keep your muscles “healthy.” When it comes to the demanding sport of running, healthy muscles will keep you injury-free while unhealthy muscles can easily lead you to a painful injury.

Running is not kind to your leg muscles or joints. As the Law of Conservation of Energy taught us way back in our high school science classes, energy is neither created or destroyed. When we apply this law to our running, we now understand the force of our entire body slamming into the ground is being transferred into each of our legs as they strike the ground. The cushioning of our shoes absorbs some of that energy, but a large majority of the remaining force is immediately transferred to our legs.

As your foot slams into the ground, the massive forces are now racing up your leg. But thanks to your rolling and stretching routine, your quad and glute muscles are ready for the onslaught of high stress. Like a compressing spring, your quad and glute muscles effortlessly absorb the loads with smooth lengthening (eccentric) contractions. Your now-loaded muscles are just waiting to release their new energy when the compressed leg is allowed to push off the ground.

In contrast, a rigid, un-rolled, and therefore unhealthy leg muscles aren’t prepared for the rapidly approaching high forces racing up the leg. So, what do they do? They selfishly only think of protecting themselves. The weak, tight leg muscles lock down with a strong isometric (static, no motion) contraction. In doing so, per the Law of Conservation of Energy, every pound of the remaining energy is now transferred into your joints, mostly your knees and hips, with pain and injury not far behind.

When healthy, loose and stretchy muscles are loaded when running, they absorb the forces like a giant spring. When unhealthy, tight and rigid muscles are loaded when running, they absorb the forces like a giant brick.

Take-home point: If you’re a runner, you need to be a roller.

Mature athletes

While I recently stretched on a beach with my 11-year old son, I leaned to my side, spanning one hand skyward with the other desperately reaching for the sand, but stopping well short of my optimistic goal. Meanwhile, my son mirrored my stretch, with his 11-year-old spine effortlessly bent sideways, with his hand buried deep in the sand. “That’s sad, Dad, so sad,” he said empathetically.

For those of us north of 40 years old (the “mature athletes”), our muscles seem to stretch more like leather belts, compared to youthful muscles, which stretch like rubber bands. Mature athletes desperately need the assistance of rollers to maintain less fascial restrictions on their tighter muscles and joints.

Cross trainers

Cross training involves a variety of exercises involving cardio conditioning, strength training, agility drills, balance training, core strengthening, climbing, ballistic drills, carrying exercises, and plyometric routines. In other words, cross trainers’ bodies work hard to do a lot of different types of intense workouts. Their entire muscular system is constantly overloaded, and their muscles are constantly in need of recovery. The use of rollers before a workout, as part of the workout, and following the workout will be a huge help to keep cross trainers injury-free.


Bikers put a high demand on their quads and hip flexors in a restricted position on the bike, as shown. Unlocking their quads, hip flexors, and lower back before and after a ride using a roller or roller ball will improve performance and injury prevention.

bikers love rolling Photography by Haim Ariav & Klara Cu

A prolonged compressed hip posture on a bike increases the need for a roller both before and after you get on the saddle.

Stop-and-go athletes

Athletes who do a lot of stopping and going during their sport, like tennis, basketball, volleyball, and frisbee, put high stress on their tendons and muscles. These are the types of athletes who often suffer from tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon, because of the rapid loads placed on their tendons and muscles during their sport.

The more pliable, flexible, and responsive their muscles are, the better prepared the tendons are to remain injury-free during stop-and-go sports. With tendons positioned on both ends of a muscle to anchor the muscle to the bones, much of the health of the tendon is reliant on the health of its muscles. Healthy and responsive muscles handle high forces with ease, which in turn protects the tendons.

Think about anyone you know who has ruptured or torn an Achilles tendon, patella tendon, hamstring, calf, groin, or quad muscle. They were probably doing some type of ballistic, quick, change of direction type movement.

Walkers and hikers

If you think walking isn’t a difficult task for the body, think again. Walking may not apply a lot of stress to your muscles, tendons, and joints, but its high volume within a small range of motion makes it difficult for lower-extremity muscles to stay flexible. You take approximately 2,000 steps per mile when you walk, with all of those steps in a short, confined range of motion. Rollers help a walker or hiker’s tight muscles and fascia to stay looser, reduce trigger points, increase blood flow, and recover faster.

The ability to travel with a roller and use it in the gym, in the park, or at the top of a mountain makes rollers a perfect training partner for hikers, walkers, trail runners, hunters, and even bird watchers.

Human cardio machines

When I watch the impressive “human cardio machines” in the gym jump from one cardio machine to the next, I’m in awe of their stamina and focus. They seem like massive lungs with legs as they sweat on the treadmill before switching to the spin bike, then the elliptical, and then the rower. I love their cross-training routines as they wisely enhance their endurance and strength. The diverse loads on their muscles desperately need the assistance of a roller to stay limber.

Yoga haters

“I hate yoga,” is a phrase I hear on a weekly basis. And a note to the yogis out there: Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just quoting the yoga haters.

Personally, I like yoga. But not everyone shares my opinion. For those who despise stretching and find stretching classes both boring and ineffective, rolling is the perfect substitute.

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