Top 5 Areas You’re Probably Not Foam Rolling

Foam Rolling has become about as trendy as skinny jeans lately, and I don’t hate it.

I’m a big believer in foam rolling, even though there is not a large amount of research to back it up. I’m a believer because of anecdotal experience, both from myself and from the athletes that I treat on a daily basis.

Foam rollers are a tool used by many fitness enthusiasts and professionals, and essentially help you to perform a technique called myofascial release on yourself.  (Note: When using a foam roller, you are not stretching the muscles. Common misconception.)  The theory, in a nutshell, is that the fascia (connective tissue) that surrounds all of our muscles, can get bound up with scar tissue and adhesions from daily use, movement patterns, etc. The foam roller is a tool that can be used to loosen these adhesions, allowing your muscles to move more freely throughout their range of motion. Again, the research is not really there, but I’ve had good results. So until I stop getting good results, I’ll continue to use it and recommend it.

Most people out there who have step foot in a gym over the past couple of years have at least seen foam rollers if they haven’t personally used them.  However, while most people who use them know to roll the larger muscle groups such as the quads, hamstrings, and hipflexors, a lot of people miss the smaller or harder to reach areas, which can be just as important (if not more so).

The following are 5 of the areas that most people miss when foam rolling, thus missing out on many of the potential benefits:

1. IT Band – While this is a fairly common one, I know there are still some people out there who don’t know what their IT Band is. Essentially, it’s a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the outside of your hip to the outside of your knee. It can be a nagging cause of pain for many people, especially runners. Because of it’s placement, and due to the fact that it’s not actually a muscle, you can’t really stretch your IT Band. This is where the foam roller comes in, to help areas along the ITB that generally have increased friction, such as just above the outside of your knee.

With all of your weight on the outside of your thigh use your other foot to assist you to roll from just below your hip, to just above your knee.

Foam Roll ITB

2. Medial and Lateral Quad – Most people foam roll the very anterior (front) portion of their quad group, but they forget that the quadriceps are made of up of 4 muscles! While two of them are located on the anterior thigh, there are also medial and lateral quad muscles that need to be taken care of as well. It’s these parts of the quad (especially the medial, or VMO), that often contribute to knee pain such as “runners knee”

Foam Roll VMONotice how my legs are rotated out so that my feet are pointing away from each other. 

To target the VMO (or medial/inner quad), position yourself over the foam roller as you would for the quads normally, with the foam roller directly under the front of your thighs. Rotate your legs away from eachother so that you are slightly “duck footed”, and roll down to just above your knee (see picture above). For the lateral thigh, position yourself on your front, and then roll slightly to each side to target each leg separately (see picture below).

Foam Roll Lat QuadIn this picture I am rolling the lateral (outside) part of my Left Quadriceps muscle group

3. Adductors: (Muscle group along your inner thigh) Position yourself so that one leg is turned out, and the foam roller is under your inner thigh. Yes, it will look a little awkward if you do this in public, but it’s an important area to foam roll!  Overly tight adductors can inhibit your glutes which can effect compound movements such as squats, and keeping them loose can do wonders for your hip mobility and range of motion.

Foam Roll AdductorsNot the most flattering pose when in a public place… 

4. Hip External Rotators/Gluteus Medius: There is a group of smaller muscles that work to externally rotate (turn out) your hip, as well as the gluteus medius, which is basically a cap over your hip joint.  When these muscles are overly tight, they can cause movement dysfunction, hip pain, knee pain, and other ailments. Keeping this tissue healthy is not only important for proper  movement patterns for squats and deadlifts, but also for general hip and lower extremity quality of movement.

Position yourself so that you are sitting on the foam roller, with one leg crossed over the other in a figure-4 position. Shift your weight slightly to the side that of your crossed leg, and roll back and forth a few inches each way.

Foam Roll GlutesIt’s hard to see in the picture, but I am shifted a little bit to the L side, so that my weight is on the L upper glute/hip area. I will also keep my legs in this position and roll almost completely to the L side to reach more of the Glute Medius 

5. Lats/Upper Back: Of all the areas that people foam roll, this one is probably forgotten the most. Many people associate foam rollers with your lower body, but the upper back and lats (Latissimus Dorsi, or the bat wings, as they’re sometimes called) are just as important. Overly tight lats can lead to shoulder pain and dysfunction, back pain as well as a whole slew of other problems since it is such a large muscle and is used often.

Position yourself so that you are lying on one side, with the foam roller under the upper portion of your lats on that side, and that arm above your head. Your weight should be resting just under and to the back of your armpit, and trust me, this will not be comfortable. Roll back and forth a few inches, or you may also be able to find an exceptionally tight spot and stay on it for 20-30 seconds.

Foam Roll LatsDon’t be fooled, no one ever smiles when they foam roll their lats. This is one of those “hurts so good” moments. 

6. Sacrum: Your sacrum forms the base of your spine, just above your coccyx, or tail bone. I’m not telling you to roll directly over the bone, but the ever important gluteus maximus attaches along the side edges of the sacrum, and paying special attention to this area is important for proper hip mobility and function. Keep in mind that the gluteus maximus is one of the biggest, and strongest muscles in your body when it is functioning correctly. Keeping this tissue healthy is king when it comes to your big compound lifts, and for running too for those of you who don’t lift.

Position yourself so you are seated on the foam roller, with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Shift slightly to one side so that your weight is just on the side of your sacrum, and roll back and forth about 4-5 inches. Continue on the other side.

Foam Roll SacrumI know it looks like I”m just sitting there, but I actually am doing something here. You can’t really tell by the picture, but my weight is shifted ever so slightly to the side, to really get in along the glute attachments along the sacrum. 

General Notes:

  • Spend a decent amount of time on each area. Although it will depend on each area and the density of the tissue, 30 seconds – 2 minutes should be sufficient.
  • This will not be comfortable! You shouldn’t be in agonizing pain, but it won’t feel like rolling through a field of daisies, either. The good news though, is that the more often you do this, the less it will hurt!
  • Do this regularly. Ideally, it should be part of your dynamic warm up, cool down, and also a part of your daily routine even on days when you’re not working out.
  • You may have to play around with this a little. Especially in the hip area, you may have to move your body around at a few different angles to the areas that feel especially tight. I always encourage my athletes to really take some time and notice how you feel at each spot. The area of your hips that needs more attention could be totally different than mine, so pay close attention when doing these drills.

Do you foam roll, and how often? What are the areas that you focus on the most? Do you find any areas to be so painful that you can’t tolerate it? Do you foam roll before or after your workouts (or both?) 

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38 thoughts on “Top 5 Areas You’re Probably Not Foam Rolling

  1. Awesome post!

    We do foam rolling a lot to start our Crossfit classes, and it’s my favorite part of the day. You learn all sorts of new “hurts so good” spots!

    I bought a Trigger Point foam roller for home use, too.. LOVE.

  2. I am obsessed with foam rolling right now. I have been rolling out my calves, my soleous, and my glutes. The pain is intense but I walk away feeling better. I have the foam rollers at work and at the gym but I’d love to get one at home.

  3. i had never heard of foam rolling until i strained my IT band 2.5 years ago. now it’s part of my daily life! on days that i’m squatting, i actually roll twice – after i warm up, and then after i squat. every other day it’s part of my cool down and stretch routine. it hurts like the devil sometimes – especially, for me, the medial quads and right ITB – but it’s a miracle worker. love/hate thing, ya know. : )

    also, i love your shirt. because i love bright things. : )

  4. Great post!! I got put onto foam rolling by my PT last year, and got one for Christmas so it’s even easier to roll the pain away now! I generally do it after exercise, but if I’m feeling stiff or achey I do it before hand (especially PT if we’re gonna be squatting!). I recently completed my first 7KM ‘race’ and am wary of rolling my IT band ’cause it HURTS. Not in a hurts so good way either…I have bung leg joints so have a lot of pain in my joints, less so now I’ve lost a lot of weight but still. So rolling my IT band is quite painful because of the running and the bung-ness! Calves are sooore too and a bit tricky to roll. I love rolling my ass and hip flexors. Hurts so good! Now I want to foam roll!

  5. I have to foam roll for physio, but I don’t do it as often as I should… some days it’s just really hard to find time! I foam roll my IT band, quads (all the different muscles), calves, and glutes. I’ve tried doing my adductor muscles too, but I could never figure out the right position – so thanks for that picture. I’ll try that tonight!

    • Have you tried it yet for your adductors? Thats one that gets me every time — and a muscle group that I think is very tight on most people. It can be hard to find time to do this, but I think getting it in on a regular basis can really help a lot of musculoskeletal issues!

  6. haha i seriously laughed when you said itz become as trendy as skinny pants – that’s totally true!! when i was running, i def foam rolled the heck outta my it band and my calves! sometimes i used a tennis ball for my calves cuz it felt like it went deeper – love/hate relationship!

  7. Have you tried the “rumble roller”? I’ve tried it a couple times and don’t hate it. Can’t decide if it’s too much or not though. I guess that would depend on the person!

  8. Reblogged this on Team PI and commented:
    Absolutely fantastic blog on the use of the foam roller as fitness and recovery aid! Definitely going to be adding some of these moves to our regular routines… 🙂

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  10. I wouldn’t recommend rolling the IT band – it’s not malleable. If the ITB is sore, unglue the musculature that it’s adhered to.

    • I agree with you to a certain extent — I never advise people to roll over the “ends” of the ITB where it tends to get very painful, as that can just add to the irritation. But I do think it is useful to roll along the length of it, especially as it connects with the fascia surrounding the quads, hamstrings, etc.

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  12. Pingback: Should You Foam Roll Before or After You Workout? | I Train Therefore I Eat.

  13. This page is the best resource I found on google. I googled fascia knee pain. I have a foam roller but don’t use it often, and when i do, i don’t use it properly. I’m trying to get ready for my 12 half marathon and 12 marathon (Chicago). This page just made me realize I should be using the foam more often and has shown me how to do it properly. Thank you Stephanie.

  14. Joined a crossfit like group and our coach is big on squats, dead lifts and things like that like. But right away I developed tibial tuberosity pain…big time! Probably should of foam rolled and stretched more…

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