How to use a foam roller for warm-ups and muscle recovery

Posted by for Strength

A guide to self-massage if you’ve upped your exercise regime in lockdown or are missing your sports therapy sessions. 

Dedicated exercisers are of course excited for the gym to open again, but we’re also keen to get an appointment with our sports therapist in pronto. Our intense workouts, desk jobs and screen addictions have all combined to make our muscles become tight and knotty.

The likelihood is that we won’t be getting any in-person treatment for at least another month. Until then, foam rolling is an affordable and social distancing-friendly alternative. A form of self-myofascial release, it puts pressure on tissue to ease knots and pain. 

“The main function of foam rolling is that it helps to release fascia, which is the body’s connective tissue that encases your muscles,” says Emma Obayuvana, trainer and Strong Women ambassador. “Reducing tightness in the fascia will help you with your mobility, better movement, and hence, your workouts.”

When should you foam roll?

A lot of people see foam rolling as a tool to relieve post-workout tightness, but foam rolling before your workout may actually be more helpful. “Foam rolling as part of your warm up increases blood flow to the tissue, joints and fascia. The muscles will then be better prepped for movement and perform better during the workout,” says Emma. A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that foam rolling before a workout improved participants’ power, agility, strength, and speed, which we wouldn’t turn down. 

However, it can still be useful as a recovery tool. Studies have found that it reduces DOMS and improves recovery

Foam rolling before you workout can improve performance

How to foam roll

So, now we know when to do it, what about how?

To start, place the foam roller under the muscle you want to release and support your body weight with your hands and feet. “Never put 100% of your weight through the muscle you’re rolling out,” explains Emma. “This needs to be slow and controlled.”

For example, if you are rolling out your quad muscle, lie on your front with your forearms propping your body up, one quad muscle resting on the roller and the other knee bent out to rest on the floor. Then begin rolling up and down the muscle, from the hip to the knee.

“Rolling over some parts will feel more intense than others. That’s where the trigger points or muscle knots are. The idea is to find these areas as you roll and get into them,” Emma says.

Do that by hovering on the knot and doing smaller rolls back and forth. “This should feel uncomfortable but never painful,” adds Emma.

If the sensation feels too much, release some of the pressure by taking more weight into your arms or legs. If you feel like you can press further into the knots, apply more pressure through the muscle you’re rolling.

Another important thing to remember is that you should never roll over a joint – only ever over muscles. Also remember to breathe, as holding the breath will make the body tighten up which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. It does feel intense but try to relax into it by exhaling deeply as you roll.

Foam rolling shouldn’t last for long, either, as it can be intense for the body. Don’t hold static pressure on the roller for more than 30 seconds, and only spend around two minutes on each muscle. 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).