Foam Rolling: How To Start and Finish That Workout Right

Stuart KremznerJuly 31, 2013
Author Stuart Kremzner demonstrates one way to use a foam roller to work out the kinks along the spine and back.
Author Stuart Kremzner demonstrates one way to use a foam roller to work out the kinks along the spine and back.

Editor’s Note: Wednesday Workout fans, you’re in luck! The following article complements Bill Pierce’s recommendations for stretching, agility and self-massage. Not exactly sure how to use a foam roller? Stuart Kremzner, exercise physiologist, owner of E3 Sports Performance, nordic skier and coach, explains.  


Many of us have been to training centers and weight rooms and seen the foam rollers in the corners. Maybe even seen someone using it moving around on it and usually grimacing, puffing, and cursing it.  Foam rollers are a tool to be used in preparation for exercise to limber us up. You will find after foam rolling, you will usually have an increased range of motion, and your muscles will feel suppler.

Stick rollers (l) and foam rollers.
Stick rollers (l) and foam rollers.

The purpose of foam rolling is to achieve the same outcomes as from tissue massage or other physical therapy techniques such as manual therapy or active release therapy (or the more scientific term myofascial release), just without the masseuse or therapist working on you.

The goal is to loosen up those tight muscles and trigger points (“small areas of muscle that act differently … this increases tension throughout the entire muscle and can cause pain in another area of the body,” according to physical therapist and author Gray Cook).

We all know what tight muscles feel like. Rolling can release these areas of tightness just like massage will, and can give you some short-term improvements in muscle range of motion. Rolling out can also help with recovery after a workout. Like many of the warm-up and warm-down tools you need to try it to see if it works well for you and if you feel better in your workouts when utilized. Like with most training methods you will have responders and non-responders. My experience has been most athletes benefit from this as part of their warm-up and warm-down routine.

Foam rolling can help ease sore muscles after a race and aid in recovery after a workout. (Photo: Wiki Commons)
Foam rolling can help ease sore muscles after a race and aid in recovery after a workout. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

How to use it?

Rolling out is best done as the first and last step in a workout. For general loosening up roll over one muscle group back and forth 10-15 times. If you find a knot or trigger point roll over that area in shorter, lighter strokes until it releases or feels less tender.

Stick vs. Foam Rollers:

  • Sticks: smaller muscle groups (i.e. back, arms, front of shin)
  • Foam: larger muscle groups (i.e. lower body, legs, back).Start with basic low- to mid-density foam roller before trying a harder or textured one.

There are a variety of rolling devices. Fifteen years ago there were about two – now any fitness catalog will present a mind-numbing variety; it is like trying to buy shampoo in Wal-Mart!

The primary two are the stick rollers and foam rollers. Sticks are best for work on harder to get areas, and smaller muscle groups (back, arms, front of the shin).  The foam roller pretty much does the same thing but you move your body over it versus rolling the stick over your muscles. Since a foam roller is wider it can hit a bigger area.

I find sticks are best when you have less time to roll out and are also more portable, so you can pack it for a race so you are not trying to roll out in an icy or sandy parking lot.  That said, the foam roller will feel great for those larger muscle groups, primarily in the lower body and back (where you can’t reach with a stick by yourself). After a while you will find both come in handy.

Rollers also come in various densities and textures, start simple with a basic low- to mid-density foam roller and then once you get used to it try a harder or textured roller.

It’s a great way to start and finish your workouts as part of your warm-up and warm-down routine.

Stuart Kremzner

Stuart Kremzner is an exercise physiologist, avid nordic skier and coach. He has a passion to help athletes develop to their fullest potential while gaining a love for the training process. When not working in his training center E3 Sports Performance he is out running or skiing on the trails with his family.

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