The One Foam Rolling Move You Should Do

Foam Rolling How-to
Photo by Alex Orlov

Real talk: It’s hard to squeeze in workouts, let alone dedicate time to stretch or foam roll. But if you’re doing a 10-second quad stretch and then calling it a day, you’re probably not doing enough to save your legs. So what’s the most efficient way to improve mobility, speed recovery and ease soreness, stat? Grab a dense foam roller (like the Trigger Point Performance Roller), and put three minutes on the clock.

Read on for the scoop on the best foam rolling move you’re not doing, according to Brynn Fessette DPT, FAFS, physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City.

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Reasons to Roll Out

“You need to break up those knots to really lengthen the tissue — and that’s where the foam roller is key.”

After a strenuous workout, your muscle tissues are kind of like ropes with knots in them, says Fessette. Those places of uncomfortable tightness (called adhesions) can restrict your range of motion, which might compromise your form if you return to your workouts without addressing them. “You need to break up those knots to really lengthen the tissue — and that’s where the foam roller is key,” Fessette says. Making time for self-myofascial release (aka self-massage) can increase blood circulation so your muscles have healthy fascia, or connective tissue.

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But where to start — especially for runners? “A lot of people foam roll their quads and their IT band, but they neglect the lateral quad,” says Fessette. “It usually hurts the most because it’s the tightest.” She notes that you want to give extra TLC to spots that feel tense. And it’s no race — going slow will allow you get deeper into the tissue. Plus, you can still be done in under three minutes. Case in point, Fessette’s most efficient quad self-massage detailed below. Your face might grimace, but your muscles will thank you later!

The Best Foam Rolling Moves to Relieve Your Quads

Foam Rolling Move for Quads

The Front Quad Release 

  1. Lie facedown on the ground with the foam roller placed perpendicular to your legs, with your upper left thigh resting on the roller and your right leg bent at the hip and knee, resting lightly on the ground. Rest some of your bodyweight on your forearms and keep your core engaged. Start by rolling two inches to the front of the mat and two inches back.
  2. Working out those adhesions by carefully moving your knee and hip joints through a range of motion will help the cause. While holding the roller still, slowly move your left leg side to side, like your leg is a car’s windshield wiper. Here, focus on “squishing” out any tightness rather than merely letting your body “clunk” over the tight spots, says Fessette. Think about flattening your muscle out to really get deep into your tissue. Repeat the side-to-side motion twice.
  3. Next, slowly bring your left heel towards your glute, then lower it to the ground. Repeat twice.
  4. Now walk your forearms forward and roll yourself two inches forward to a different part of your quad, then repeat steps 2 and 3. You should aim to perform this three-step sequence (roll, windshield wipers and glute kicks) on three places on your quad, or wherever you specifically feel tightness. When you reach the top of your quad, perform the release below to target your lateral quad.

Foam Rolling Move Lateral Quads

The Lateral Quad Release

  1. After rolling the front of your quad, your upper thigh should be resting on the foam roller. Now, turn your body 45 degrees to the right so your bodyweight is resting on the outer edge of your quad (not the IT band). Bring your right forearm off the ground and place your palm on the ground to help you balance in this position. Start by rolling two inches to the back of your mat, and two inches forward.
  2. Keep the foam roller still and slowly move your left leg side to side, again, as if your leg is a car windshield wiper. Repeat twice.
  3. Now slowly bring your left heel towards your glute, and lower it back to the ground. Repeat twice.
  4. Next, perform the three-step sequence (roll, windshield wipers and glute kicks) on two other parts of your lateral quad, or wherever you feel tightness.
  5. When you finish massaging the left leg, perform steps 1 through 8 with the right leg.

Fessette recommends using the foam roller after every strenuous workout, or even every day if you’re experiencing soreness. Here are more ways to target the rest of your body and potentially speed up recovery:

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