Choose the right roller.
When selecting a foam roller, pay attention to the density. Too soft and you won’t get an effective massage. Too hard and bruising or tissue damage may occur. Many companies color-code the rollers according to density—white rollers tend to be the softest while darker colors indicate a greater density. Replace dented or damaged rollers immediately.
Target the body part.
For best results, rest yourself by lying or sitting on the foam roller in a position that will permit you to roll three inches in either direction around the target area. Common areas of the body that benefit from rolling include the hip flexors, hamstrings, quads, calves, IT band and upper back. When rolling the back muscles stop at the ribcage, never roll the low back.
Release the tension.
Expect mild discomfort as you release muscle tension by holding challenging positions for 30 seconds to a minute, but do not roll directly on painful areas. Work the surrounding muscles to release any tension and improve range of motion without further damaging tissue.
Rolling daily or at least three to five times per week will improve joint range of motion, especially when done prior to exercise. You can also prevent delayed onset muscle soreness by rolling post-exercise as a cool-down.
Sources: Irene Lewis-McCormick, M.S., C.S.C.S. Foam Roller Workout. ACSM Health & Fitness Summit. March 12-15, 2013. 1-3.