It’s not often that you find great exercise equipment costing $25 or less. But cylindrical foam rollers, which you can roll your body over in countless ways, are just that.
Sold on the Internet and in sporting-goods stores, the rollers can help you stretch and massage yourself, do strengthening exercises and improve balance and body alignment.
They are good at relieving hard-to-reach knots and tension points in your back, legs, and elsewhere. Known as myofascial release, this simple technique uses your body weight to press muscles against the roller and iron out those painful spots.
Foam rollers are often used by physical therapists for the rehab of certain types of injuries, as well as in yoga and Pilates sessions. In fact, one of the first people to use rollers was Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed the movement therapy that bears his name.
The rollers, full cylinders or half cylinders, come in different lengths, diameters and densities. A typical starter roll is fairly dense, about 36 inches long and 6 inches in diameter.
Note: If you’ve had an injury, it’s best to consult a doctor or physical therapist before using rollers or any exercise device.
Six rolling tips
- Use the roller on a hard, flat, nonslip surface. A yoga mat is good because it’s somewhat sticky, which reduces the chances that you’ll roll too fast or fall off.
- Use it only for muscles, not joints or bony protrusions.
- Roll slowly and in a controlled manner.
- When doing self-massage, start with the roller near the center of your body and role outward. For example, if you’re massaging your quadriceps (in front of your thigh), start near the hip and roll down towards the knee.
- Increase or reduce the pressure by varying how much you use your arms and/or legs for support.
- Make sure your body is properly aligned when you’re using a roller. For example, your head and neck should be aligned with your torso if you’re rolling on your back. Stop if you feel pain.
For balance: Stand on half rollers, maintaining your balance by holding arms out to side, if necessary. When first starting, have something (or someone) at hand that you can grab if you need to steady yourself.
Thigh exercise (for quadriceps): Lie on roller, using your hands for balance, as if doing a push-up. Roll the front of your thigh over the roller from hip down toward knee, and then back up. You can do this with one or both legs on the roller, depending on how much pressure you want.
Thigh exercise 2 (for iliotibial band): Lie on roller on your side. Align top leg with bottom leg, or bend it in front to reduce pressure on thigh and provide balance. Using hands for support, roll the side of your thigh over the roller from hip down to knee and then back up. Repeat on other side.