Foam Rollers: Your personal massage therapist

Foam Rollers: Your personal massage therapist

Foam rollers are a fantastic tool that can act like our own personal massage therapists. Learn more with personal trainer Shayne Smit.

We have a connective tissue that runs over all of our muscles and organs called fascia. Fascia, like muscles, can get tight and bounded. Using a foam roller we utilize a technique called self-myofascial release to break down and loosen these adhesions of fascia. This technique can simultaneously help loosen and release muscle tightness and promote fresh blood flow to the area.

When looking to purchase a foam roller, we want to look for a roller that is along the medium level of stiffness. We want our rollers stiff but with some give. If the roller is too soft, we won’t receive the full benefit from utilizing the roller. However, it is always better to go with a softer roller than an extremely hard and tough roller. The whole goal of rolling is to loosen tight areas of the body. If we use a roller that is too tough on us we will never be able to relax the muscles we are rolling. This causes us to tighten up due to the pain of rolling. We need to be able to actively relax while rolling, even if it is painful. Using a medium stiff roller is the best tool for this.

How to roll

There are a couple of different techniques we can utilize while foam rolling. The most critical element in our opinion is using the breath to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows our muscles to relax as we roll and helps prevent us from stiffening our muscles as we roll them out.


While foam rolling we always want to be actively breathing. This helps us from unintentionally tightening up the muscles we are trying to open up. The best style of breathing to keep relaxed while rolling is by belly breathing deeply in through the nose then exhaling out through the mouth. This will ensure that we can activate the rest and digest reflex of our body and give the tight muscles and fascia an opportunity to release.


When using a foam roller there are 3 ways we can utilize it to help us open up adhesions and tight muscles.

  •  Rolling – The first is just simply rolling back and forth on the roller. This is the most commonly seen option when using a foam roller. You can go the whole length of the muscle or, a better option is, focus on a small area of the muscle that feels tightest until it feels like it opens up. 
  • Sit and Hold – Another option which can be extremely beneficial is sitting and holding a tight point on the roller. This can be used when it is simply too painful to roll over a tight muscle group. As long as we utilize the breathing technique stated above while sitting on the roller we can break up the tissue slowly and more gently with this technique.
  • Hold and Mobilize – Another technique that is extremely powerful to open a tight area of the body is to hold a spot that is tight and move the body over the roller in different patterns. For example instead of rolling the thigh muscles out you would find a spot that is tight and stop on this area. You would then mobilize the area by moving the thigh into flexion and extension and by moving side to side over the tight spot. As always it’s critical to breathe in a pattern that promotes release of the muscle. 
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