Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that can help release muscle tension, and a foundational exercise that I encourage my clients to employ in their daily routines. This simple practice can promote blood flow to your muscles and prevent injury caused by muscle tightness.

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling began as an exercise for elite athletes, but has become a familiar practice for people at all levels of fitness. Used to release muscle tension, “rolling out” is traditionally done on a foam roller, but a lacrosse or tennis ball can be used, depending on the size of the targeted area.

Why foam rolling?

Elasticity and responsiveness are markers of healthy muscle, whether your goal is to build bulk or stay lean. If a muscle develops a knot or becomes too tight, it can affect the surrounding muscles, causing them to overcompensate for restricted or altered movement. This can result in muscular or joint injuries.

A good example of the causative effects of muscle tightness is back pain. While it’s true that many people feel back pain as a result of spinal injuries like bulging disks, back pain can also be caused by knots or inflammation found in surrounding muscle tissues like the hip flexors or glutes. A regular regimen of rolling can help to prevent or reduce problems.

How do I foam roll?

It’s important to identify “trigger points” on your body, specific knots that form in your muscles that will refer pain when pressure is applied. Trigger points can shift over time and with muscle use, so consistency in rolling is your best tool against chronic muscle tightness.

Once you’ve identified your trigger point(s), roll them slowly, applying pressure for at least a minute, or until you feel the muscle release. If your knot is too painful to apply direct pressure, work the surrounding area for 30 second to one minute intervals. This should gradually warm up and loosen the entire area, allowing you to revisit the original knot. Listen to your body as you’re rolling; it will inform you whether your pain is discomfort or an area you should avoid. Never roll out a muscle that hurts too much—you don’t want to reinjure or worsen an injury.

I encourage you to incorporate foam rolling into your daily routine, as a part of your training warm up or cool down. Keep in mind that the safest way to roll is while your muscles are warm, which can be achieved by doing your regular warm up before you roll, or rolling immediately after your workout.

After rolling out, make sure to drink lots of water to flush out the lactic acid released by your roll. And, as with any training regimen, it’s important to get enough sleep. Muscle recovery is key for any performing athlete—take care of your body and it will grow stronger.