Does It Work: Foam Roller

>> Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Two words: HELLS YEAH!!

If you’re new to running (or anything athletic), you could benefit from the “joys” of foam rolling. Foam rolling is a type of self massage / self pressure therapy that you can do as you use your body weight to roll up and down a cylindrical piece of hard foam. It’s meant to "work out" sore muscles.

I bought a foam roller a number of years ago to work my IT band (which is a movement much like in the photo above). It hurts. But works so well. Now I use it on my perennially sore calves. Some evenings, I spend 10 minutes foam rolling my IT band, my calves, my quads, and my hammies. I’ve even started to put it under my neck and roll my head side-to-side to help with neck tension.

“They” say to make sure to not overdo it. (I don’t know who “they” are, but I’ve heard this from many people.) Some people say to start with muscles closer to the center of the body and work your way to the outer limbs. Some people say to pause over sore areas while others say to just roll right through them (I usually roll right through). Most people say to just do 10 slow passes or so before moving on to a different spot.

You can pick up a foam roller at any “good” running store, most sports stores, and anywhere online. Some are only about a foot long. I have a bigger one:

Sometimes (as I’ve joked about before), my foam roller looks like this:

I find myself sometimes rolling up and down the “sweet spot” of my calves. I’ve learned I have to mix it up as I roll; if I stay in one area, it doesn’t do much. But if I go up and down different parts of my heel (pivoting my body a little to the left or right now and then), THEN it hurts more and is working areas that NEED to be worked.

Foam Roller: Grade of A+. I love it when I pretend to be John Mellencamp and sing “Hurts So Good” as I’m foam rolling. (No, not really...)

BTW, I came across the following image while doing a Google search on foam rollers. I don’t know what this is, but DON’T do this...

...or at least do this in the privacy of your own home...

Do you have a foam roller that you’re in love with? How do you use yours? For what “trouble spots?” And don't forget to check back at 2 am and 2 pm every day this week for more “Does It Work” posts. Click on the “Does It Work” tag to see all posts in this mini-series.


teacherwoman 6:55 AM, February 03, 2010  

I love the foam roller. SWEAR BY IT! I use it to primarily work on my legs, particularly the ITBand. But, It also feels really good aon the back and bum. :)

Jen 7:00 AM, February 03, 2010  

I am a foam rolling queen. I started using one in April and swear by it. I use a black one. I use mine to loosen my IT band, clave muscles and after a hard workout, my back.

Carolina John 7:57 AM, February 03, 2010  

haha, i use the stick. it does the same thing but without using bodyweight.

Steve Stenzel 8:04 AM, February 03, 2010  

John, I've never used "the stick" before. Although I did use the stick on an athlete in T2 of IM WI this past year (when I was volunteering). He was having quad/groin issues, and I really made him feel better by rolling them out with the stick. You're right - it does a very similar thing.

Anonymous,  8:18 AM, February 03, 2010  

is it bad that I only use a foam roller to crack my own back sometimes? I don't know how to use one "for real" so I haven't really ventured out.

Heather @ Side of Sneakers 8:25 AM, February 03, 2010  

I love foam rolling- I really need to get my own, right now I just use one at the gym (which does nothing to help after my long runs, since I don't do them at the gym!)

Christi 8:26 AM, February 03, 2010  

I love my foam roller. It has allowed me continued training without injury!

Julie 8:42 AM, February 03, 2010  

Hi Steve,
I do not have a foam roller yet. Just so you know, that when I do I promise I will do it in the privacy of my own home:) Funny picture!! Have a good one Steve!

Regina 10:01 AM, February 03, 2010  

LOVE my foam roller. I started using it for my ITBand and then moved on to every other part of my body; calves, hamstrings, quads, piriformis, back. I also use a tennis ball on my calves when I feel some PF coming on and to really get into the piriformis.

trimybest 10:39 AM, February 03, 2010  

"Some are only about a foot long. I have a bigger one"

jeez brag much? ;)

i use mine a lot as well. i also use a heavy wood rolling pin. that works amazing. i even got myself a my own so i wouldnt have to use the one from our kitchen.

Betsy 11:23 AM, February 03, 2010  

I love my foam roller. So much. I've built a shrine to it. It's my magic stick. Wait--that sounded dirty, but I don't care, because it is magic.

I swear it heals every single running related problem I have--I use it on everything and recommend it to every runner I know who doesn't use it. Foam roller=god.

Chad 12:19 PM, February 03, 2010  

Love the foam roller, especially for calves and ITB. The stick still works better for my hamstrings.

BTW, that old guy spread-eagle is the most distrubing photo I've ever seen here - and that's saying a lot!

Kim 12:30 PM, February 03, 2010  

my ART and masseuse tell me every other week to buy a foam roller - i just keep forgetting/putting it off/whatever. i hear it works wonders, im just too lazy to use it.

Michelle 12:38 PM, February 03, 2010  

I need one of those. The "stick" I have just doesn't dig deep enough. Man, that sounds so wrong!!!

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drdaven 1:23 PM, February 03, 2010  

Foam rollers are fantastic. I use "The Stick" on patients in my office and reserve the foam rolling as homework for them to do on their own.

For a spin on uses for the rollers, try doing sit ups or dumbbell bench press' on them on the floor. Just lay on one lengthwise.

Try it Mikey, you'll like it!

Anonymous,  1:33 PM, February 03, 2010  

You would have a bigger one, wouldn't you? Foam roll, that is.

Steve Stenzel 1:36 PM, February 03, 2010  

You dirty, dirty, people..... ;)

I didn't mean it like that...

Julia 1:53 PM, February 03, 2010  

buying a foam roller was the best 25 bucks I ever spent. I cannot live without it!

Mark Baker 1:55 PM, February 03, 2010  

Sure you didn't.

When I started doing Crossfit, the friend who got me into it had a foam roller. After about a week, when I started wanting to see his foam roller more than him, I got my own. I love it, especially on my back.

Tall Girl Running 7:09 PM, February 03, 2010  

Three years ago, my physical therapist sold me a foam roller to help with my ITB troubles. I haven't been back to see him since... not because I've never had threatening aches or pains, but because the foam roller takes care of them before they become full-blown injuries. I often wonder how many hundreds of dollars my PT has lost making off of me by selling me a $16 three-foot long chunk of foam.

crossn81 8:26 AM, February 04, 2010  

I've got both the foam roller and the Stick. Both do great things for my legs, though the foam roller seems to be able to really dig in deeper than the stick can.

tri_al 11:09 AM, February 04, 2010  

the picture of that old man is scaring me. he'll appear when i close my eyes tonight steve, what have you done?!?!

Jill 8:26 PM, February 04, 2010  

Thanks for this review. I finally broke down in the gym the other day and grabbed one and rolled out my annoying glute and wowzie, it felt really good. Of course, it still hurts but I could see the benefits of using this regularly. Gonna have to get me one, I believe!

Bill 6:01 AM, February 06, 2010  

Combo of roller and "The Stick". I make the stick bend into some pretty scary angles sometimes, then jump over to the roller. It's another great tool, just like tennis balls, etc.

Jes 4:01 PM, February 07, 2010  

I loooooooove my foam roller! I use it all the time! It feels great on my back too.

Unknown 2:50 PM, March 25, 2010  

If you're using a foam roller primarily for massage or myofascial release, check out the RumbleRoller ( It's more expensive, but definitely worth it!

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Anonymous,  8:11 PM, January 21, 2014  

I prefer a hand held muscle roller so i can bring it with me to the gym, i got a great deal on a golf ball muscle roller which i absolutely love!!

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