Foam Rolling for Muscle Tightness

How to roll your feet, hips, calves, and shoulders.

The human body consists of more than 600 muscles, 300 joints and 206 bones. It’s made to move and be used, but much of what we do on a day-to-day basis does not encourage movement; rather it encourages the opposite—not moving at all.

Our body is an adaptive organism that will adjust to the many types of stresses placed on it. If too much stress is experienced, muscles and other tissues can begin to break down, which can result in “overuse injuries.” Overuse injuries make up most of the injuries that plague us today. Some of the most common of these injuries are:

While overuse injuries are prevalent, injuries or dysfunctions that result from underuse are also common. The body isn’t stressed enough when it’s stuck at a desk in front of a computer all day. Stress through normal movement helps to keep muscles and other tissues healthy by bringing blood, oxygen and water into the area to hydrate it, while also working to flush out metabolic waste. This movement also allows the many layers of tissue to move in a near-frictionless environment. When the body isn’t used and these tissues don’t move, it can literally begin to “stick” together. This sticking occurs when tissues don’t slide and glide across each other enough. Over time, the tissues will develop knots and adhesions, leading to tightness, stiffness and aches and pains.

Why you should be foam rolling

In a perfect world, we would move—not just walk, but also run, crawl, climb, twist, throw and jump—stay hydrated and recover properly with rest and optimal nutrition. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world so we often need some help! Foam rolling can’t replace movements like walking or running, but it does apply compressional and tensional forces on the tissues. These types of forces help to “push” water and fluids out of connective tissue, which allows fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to rush back in. Additionally, applying pressure to the body with a foam roller encourages the sliding and gliding between the different layers. This will both remove current “sticky spots” that have built up and prevent future “sticky spots.”

Areas in the body that are highly mobile are more prone to getting stuck and feeling tight. These areas include the foot/ankle, hips and the shoulders. The four muscle groups that have a huge influence (positive or negative) are the muscles on the bottom of the foot, calves, glutes and the lats (near the shoulder).

Four areas to foam roll

  1. Plantar fascia: While standing, position the GRID foam roller (or the NANO foot roller) under your foot, just behind the toes. Slowly roll the foot forward. If a tender spot is felt stop and hold pressure for up to 30 seconds. Then, roll through the area—from toe to heel—4 times. Last, perform 4 cross-friction motions by twisting the foot on top of the GRID. Repeat on other foot.
  2. Calves: Sitting with your legs out in front of you, position the GRID under your calf just above the ankle. Lift the hips and slowly move the body down, so the GRID rolls towards the knee. Reposition your hands if necessary. If you find a tender spot, stop and hold pressure for up to 30 seconds. Then, roll through the calf 4 times to flush the muscle. Last, perform 4 spanning motions by placing the GRID about half way up the muscle and rotating the leg internally and then externally 4 times. These rotations should come from the hip. Repeat on other calf.
  3. Glutes: Laying on your side, position the GRID in the center of the glute below your hip. Place your hand behind you with the foot on the leg not being rolled placed flat on the floor for support. The leg being rolled will be relaxed in front of the body. Once in position, slowly begin to roll your body down so the GRID rolls towards the top of the hip. When you find a tender spot, hold on it for up to 30 seconds. Then, roll through the muscle 4 times to flush the tissue. Last, perform 4 cross frictions by placing your hands on the ground behind you, feet on the floor in front of you and dragging the hips side-to-side. Repeat on other side.
  4. Latissimus dorsi: Lie on your side and position the GRID just below the shoulder blade. Rest the arm being rolled on the floor and grab the GRID with the opposite hand—this will help with rolling. Slowly roll down so the GRID moves towards the arm pit. This will be a very small roll initially. If you find a tender spot, hold pressure on it for up to 30 seconds. Then, roll up and down, through the area 4 times. Next, perform a “pin-and-stretch” by placing the arm being rolled in front of you then sweeping it across the floor so it’s all the way overhead. Repeat this 4 times. Repeat on other side.

For the best results, foam roll before and after a workout. Foam rolling before a workout better prepares the body to move, and foam rolling after a workout assists in recovery.

Photo credits: Courtesy of TriggerPoint