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5 Exercises to Add to Your Routine

If you’re looking to enhance your exercise routine, add a foam roller — a lightweight foam tube — to increase your flexibility, reduce muscle pain and tension, and promote recovery. Foam rolling — essentially a self-massage technique — benefits your major muscle groups, such as your quadriceps, and fascia, by soothing and releasing tight muscles and increasing blood flow throughout your body.

“A major benefit of using a foam roller is that it can reduce the risk of developing muscle adhesions (knots), which lead to that feeling of tightness or pain,” says Kara Flexman, an exercise physiologist at Northwestern Medicine Executive Health and Northwestern Medical Group. “The friction and pressure created by using the foam roller on a regular basis can help prevent knots, which helps lengthen your muscles and increases your range of motion.”

Foam-rolling can:

  • Be done before or after exercise, or any time of day
  • Help reduce soreness after a workout and allow for faster muscle recovery
  • Increase blood flow to muscles, which can be a great way to warm up the muscles before a workout

Purchase a foam roller at a sporting goods store or online. If you don’t have a foam roller, swap in a massage stick, lacrosse balls or tennis ball. Apply pressure to tender spots using the foam roller for a minimum of 30 seconds and then move on to the next muscle group. With each exercise, place as much weight on the foam roller as you can tolerate, spending more time on tender spots.

The five exercises below are demonstrated by Clare Barry, an exercise physiologist at Northwestern Medicine Executive Health and Northwestern Medical Group. 

Foam Rolling Routine

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Roll your glutes

Sit on top of the foam roller. Roll along your glutes.

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Roll your quadriceps

Lie facedown with your thighs on the foam roller. Roll along from your hips to just above your knee. You can also do this one leg at a time.

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Roll your calves

Sit on the ground with your legs straight with one leg crossed over the other, and a foam roller under the calf of the bottom leg. Lift your hips off the ground so that your weight is supported by your hands and the foam roller. Keeping your hands still, move your body back and forth, rolling your lower leg over the foam roller.

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Roll your lats (back muscles)

Lie on your side with the foam roller under your armpit. Slowly roll forward and back.

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Roll your mid- and upper back

Lie face up on the ground with a foam roller under your mid-back and your hands supporting your head. Lift your hips off the ground so that your weight is supported by your feet and the foam roller. Roll from the middle of your back to your shoulders.