Assessing which muscles to use with the foam roller
The foam roller can be used on many different muscles groups including the calves, shins, thighs, ITB, hamstrings, TFL, glutes and lats. This list of muscles is even greater if you include similar tools to the foam roller such as tennis balls, medicine balls and various message devices.
The most important element to the foam roller is which muscles to use it on. Just like with stretching the key for success is identifying the tight muscles and releasing these. The majority of people could benefit from starting on the thigh musculature. For an in-depth analysis consider taking the Kinetic chain assessment and posture analysis.
When you apply the foam roller to muscles that have large amounts of tension you will normally experience pain. This can be severe. Use common sense in enduring this and look at ways to spread the weight of your body to lessen the pressure of the muscle on the foam roller. Over time the muscles will become less and less painful.
Foam roller techniques
Once you are using the foam roller on a muscle that needs releasing you can use one of three different methods:
Up and down rolling
You can simply roll up and down the foam roller along a muscle group. This is the least effective method for reducing muscle tension but can serve as a quick fix if short of time or before a training session.
Hold and and release
Taking a slower approach to the foam roller is more effective. At each site of pain stop moving and give the body time for the pain to release. This may take from 15 seconds to a minute. At this point move slowly further up the muscle again stopping at the next site of pain until it releases. Repeat for the whole muscle. Using this technique you can go along the muscle from the beginning to the end.
Soft tissue release
Soft tissue release involves using the foam roller on the muscle but also moving the limb to create stretch in that same muscle on the foam roller. This is effective at breaking down fascial restrictions.