Foam rollers are very popular these days. Places like Target and Walmart carry them. Grandmas and grandpas are foam rolling. Doctors are prescribing them. What began as a niche mobility tool used only by the most obscure fitness nerds has become commonplace. But if you want to get the most value out of your foam roller—and avoid doing any damage—you need to learn how to use it correctly. It’s not as simple as “rolling” on it. There’s an art to it. And a science.
But before we get into how to use a foam roller, let’s go over what a foam roller is actually doing (and not doing).
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I own a foam roller. Every fitness facility I’ve visited in the last three years has hosted a large arsenal of foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and other instruments of fascial torture. The CrossFitter community has 2.3 per capita. I hear K-Starr sleeps on a bed made of lacrosse balls with foam rollers for pillows. Everyone and their grandma has one. I’m not even joking; I saw a group of track-suited seniors doing some kind of a synchronized foam rolling routine in the park recently. The things are everywhere. And you can certainly spend an inordinate amount of time rolling around on the things, causing all sorts of painful sensations that should, in theory, help you. But does it really help?
As I mentioned earlier, I have one. I’ve used it and, I think, benefited from it. But it hurts. It’s pretty much the most unpleasant thing you can do. Not just because of the pain, but also the tedium. It had better be worth the trouble.