If you suffer from stiff, spastic, or achy muscles, you may benefit from using a foam roller. Foam roller exercises are also known as self-myofascial release (SMR) because they stretch out the fascia—the connective tissue which surrounds the muscles. If your range of motion is compromised because of ‘stiff' or ‘caught' muscles, get yourself a foam roller and try the following exercises for muscle release.

Calf muscles

Some people experience calf muscle pain after an intense workout. Individuals who run regularly or participate in a high-intensity sport often need to release calf muscles with a massage or a foam roller. Sit down on the floor with your legs stretched out and place the foam roller under your calves. Using your arms to support your weight, lift your hips off the floor and roll back and forth so that the foam roller is rolling up and down your legs from your ankles to your knees and back. Perform this exercise very slowly for best results.




When the foam roller reaches your knees, instead of rolling it back down to the ankle, keep moving forward so that it rolls up the back part of your thigh all the way to your glutes. Bend the knee of the leg which is not being stretched, and relax the muscles in the leg you are stretching. Slowly move back and forth over the foam roller so that it rolls from your knee to your glutes and back. If you are experiencing pain in your hamstring, perform this exercise very slowly and very lightly to avoid further damage. Repeat on the other leg.




Your gluteal muscles make up all the muscles in your behind—and they're more important than one might think. These muscles support the back and allow the legs to move every which way through extension, abduction, and rotation of the hip joint. Our gluteal muscles work tirelessly to support us and bring us from place to place—and even to allow us to sit. To release the gluteal muscles, sit directly on the foam roller and cross your left leg over your right leg so that your left ankle is on your right knee. Relax your muscles and slowly roll back and forth on your right butt cheek, leaning back and using your hands for support.




Your quadriceps femoris, also known as your quads, are the four muscles which make up the front of your thigh. Every time you walk, run, jump, or squat, you're engaging your quadriceps muscles. If the muscles in the front of your thighs are tight or cramped, you are most likely experiencing discomfort due to overworked quad muscles. To stretch out your quads, lie down with your stomach on the floor and place the foam roller under your hips. Move back and forth so that the foam roller rolls from your hips down to your knees, and back. Cross your left ankle behind your right and roll slowly, working on the quads in your right leg. Then switch legs and repeat on the other side.



Outer thighs

To stretch out your outer thighs, lie on your left side and prop yourself up with your left arm. Place the foam roller under your left hip and cross your right leg over your left, with your right foot planted on the floor for stability. Roll the foam roller up and down your outer thigh from your hip to your knee and back.



Lower Back

According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), 31 million Americans experience low-back pain—it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. There is no one cause of back pain—it can be triggered by a small movement like twisting, bending, or jumping. To relieve low-back pain, lie face up on the floor and place the foam roller just above the hip under your lower back. Stretch your arms up above your head and hold for 15 seconds. Then bend your left knee, point your right foot and continue the stretch. Repeat on the other side.



Upper back

Many people hold tension in the upper back. The thoracic spine refers to the upper twelve vertebrae—what we refer to as the upper back. When people experience pain or stiffness in the upper back, they are usually affected in the erector spinae, trapezius, rhomboid, infraspinatus, and latissimus dorsi. To work on the upper back muscles, lie face up on the floor and place the foam roller under your upper back, just below the shoulder blades. Contract your abdominal muscles and lean slightly to the left so that you are off your spine. Roll up and down until you reach a tight or sore spot, and hold on that spot for 15 seconds. Repeat on the right side.




If your arms are achy or stiff after a difficult workout, they could probably use some stretching. Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched above your head. Place the foam roller under your arms and roll slowly up and down until you reach a sore spot. Hold on the tight spot for 15 seconds. Repeat a few times.



Side roll

This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi, a large muscle which extends from the armpit, laterally to the upper back. Lie on your left side with your left arm extended out in front of you on the floor. Place the foam roller under your armpit and use your right hand to support you in front of your body. Slowly and carefully roll the foam roller up and down the armpit area. Lean forward or backward to target specific problem areas.




The small neck muscles hold a lot of tension, but since it is such a sensitive area, you may want to consult your doctor before doing neck stretches if you have any health concerns. The exercise can help people with a stiff or achy neck. If you woke up with a stiff neck due to a bad pillow, less-than-optimal sleep position, or air conditioning, this stretch might help you. This foam roller exercise does not involve any rolling. Lie on your back and place the foam roller under your neck. Using very slow and deliberate movements, move your head to the left, then to the right in a "shaking-of-the-head" motion. The pressure of the foam roller alone should be enough to release a taught neck.


A foam roller is a versatile and useful piece of exercise equipment that may help you to relieve those aches and pains from which you suffer but don't know how to fix. A myofascial release will loosen you up and make you feel great again, so get yourself a foam roller and try out these essential exercises.


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