If you are new to using a foam roller then you could be considered a ‘roller rookie’. Here is the basic information you need to know as you begin to exercise with this versatile piece of equipment.
The roller is essentially an unstable surface. When you lie or stand on the roller, you will be wobbly. Your body will be searching for stability. With the correct instruction, the roller can help you to activate your core muscles and then strengthen these core muscles to stop you falling off the roller.
Your balance will be also be challenged by the rollers instability. Generally, the more we challenge our balance then the better chance we have of improving it. The roller helps to enhance your body awareness and proprioception (or your ability to tell where your body, joints and limbs are, in space).
The roller also encourages mindful movement as you have to think and focus when performing your exercises. You will also become much more aware of how important your breathing is; in relation to your core and your health in general.
See also Why use a foam roller?
Foam rollers come in various sizes and shapes. Short, long, soft, ridged or wavy and hollow.
My preferred roller size is 90cm long and 15cm in diameter, made from EVA foam with a density rated 35+. It is featured throughout this site and is generally the most useful size for exercising. See Hydrangea or Meadow roller.
If you find this roller too firm, start with a less dense option. If you are unsure about the instability you can use a half roller initially. These rollers are semicircular and have a flat side. You would use it flat side down on the floor to give you greater stability.
Use your foam roller on a hard, flat surface. Ideally the floor. Wear comfortable, form fitting clothes so that you don’t get tangled in fabric whilst you are exercising. You need to feel your body on the roller and allow your body to move freely. You may wear shoes or exercise with bare-feet.
See Equipment:What you need to begin for more details.
As with any new exercise regime, if you are a roller rookie you should check with your GP before using a roller if you have any concerns. You may also want to follow this link for a list of contra-indications or reasons why you may not want to use a foam roller.
What about back and neck pain?
Roller exercises will help to encourage you to use the deep core muscles that support your spine. By activating these deep muscles we can then strengthen the lower back and neck and perhaps ease pain.
As a physiotherapist I have worked with many clients who have found great relief with roller exercises. It is important, however, to start with the basic exercises and master these before progressing. All the exercises have detailed instructions and tips. If you do have pain during any particular exercise, stop, and then check your technique. Modify if necessary. Often, the beginner exercises can also be performed without a roller initially and then a roller reintroduced when you have mastered the technique. Alternatively if you are still experiencing pain, omit the exercise from your routine.
The exercises on the Physio on a Roll site are a mix of strengthening and stretching exercises. There are fitness and pilates type exercises. Many are functional and backed up by evidence based research. Almost every exercise will target your abdominals or core. You will also move all areas of your body as you progress through the exercises.
Importantly, this position should be pain-free. It is where you return to for each exercise in supine lying on the roller or floor.
The following exercises are a good starting point for a roller rookie. Each exercise can be performed without a roller if you are unsure or find them difficult. The full instructions for each exercise can be accessed by clicking on the exercise heading.
Progress from these 5 exercises to the other basic exercises, try the basic routine or just try the “make it harder suggestions” that follow the tips in each exercise.