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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Foam Rolling

ver see those people at the gym rolling around on the ground, limbs splayed out at weird angles, rocking back and forth on... something that looks like a styrofoam log? Welcome to foam rolling!

Trainers and coaches use the self-myofascial release technique of foam rolling to relieve pain, increase range of motion and flexibility, and as a tool to aid in stretching everything out after a tough class. “It also helps prevent soreness to continue your workout routine on a daily basis,” says Instructor RACHEL R. “Simply put, it helps you recover more quickly and aids in the prevention of injury to your body.”

By literally rolling across the foam, you stimulate blood flow to muscles heavily used and those that may become dormant — or become stiff — after exercise. Senior Instructor and Le Stretch™ creator CHARLEE says, “The two biggest benefits of SMR techniques are injury prevention and a sort of ‘pre-hab’ for successful aging."


So, how do you become a foam-rolling expert? Let’s get to the basics:

What is a foam roller?

You can buy a foam roller on Amazon or at your local fitness store, but it’s just as easy to DIY it with a bed’s footboard or even a lacrosse ball — Rachel R. and Charlee’s favorite! “The lacrosse ball is a little more firm than a tennis ball so the sensation is a bit more intense,” say Rachel R. “I love using it between my shoulder blades, glutes, and down my back. It's so hard to use a standard foam roller for the small areas of our bodies that get tense so this is a great solution to that!”

Where should I foam roll?

Foam rolling can be done anywhere, any time. Heading to the park after spin? Roll around on the grass. Driving straight home? Roll in your living room. You only need to spend about a minute to two on each body part to produce results. Each position can be done for about 30-60 seconds, or up to 2 minutes in areas that need more attention. There is a level of discomfort when it comes to foam rolling, so don’t freak out! That’s normal! You’re working it out. However, if it becomes unbearable or you begin to feel pins and needles or a sharp pain running along a limb, then you definitely need to stop to see if something’s awry.

No, like where on my body?!

“I always recommend aiding recovering after a workout by using the foam roller to relieve tension in the legs specifically,” says Rachel R. “I also will lay on my back and roll it up and down my spine to help with mobility in my shoulders and back. For the legs, you can start by placing both legs on the roller and eventually build to only applying pressure to one leg at a time. It can be a little intense at first.”

There are three stretches Charlee recommends for after riding. These exercises will help release tension in the muscles used most at SOUL: A thoracic extension for your back, hip opener for your glutes, and quad release for your legs.

And, how exactly do I do this?

It’s just as easy as it sounds. Grab your roller of choice and get on the ground. “You are essentially using your bodyweight to target the muscles,” says Rachel R. You can relieve tension by staying on one part of the muscle for about 30 seconds before moving on, or you can foam roll over your muscles slowly until you feel the tension ease. “I will sometimes move my body weight from right to left to get out any knots in that specific area.”

If you’re a beginner, Charlee's hack is the pressure hold: “Don’t roll on the foam roller. Apply pressure on the muscle, hold for 30-60 seconds and then move on to the next spot.”

To do that with a foam roller she recommends these four steps:

  1. Lay on the foam roller for 30-60 seconds to apply tension to the tight muscle
  2. Make small up-and-down movements
  3. Make small side-to-side movements
  4. Then, take the muscle through some movement — a.k.a. bending at the knee as far as feels comfortable in either direction

Sound good? Ready… set… foam roll!

Charlee Atkins is a Senior SoulCycle Instructor and creator of Le Stretch™. Le Stretch™ is NYC’s first workout completely dedicated to unwinding the body’s tight spots with the use of the class's signature tool: the LeCrosse Ball. Le Stretch™ combines SMR (self-myofascial release) techniques with mobility exercises and lengthening body positions. The results? Enhanced flexibility and range of motion about the joints, improved muscle imbalances, increased blood circulation, and most importantly, a reduction to the risk of injury. Le Stretch™ will effectively extend your workout life, reduce pain, aid in successful aging, and above all, reinvigorate the body and mind. Time to book some SoulCycle classes? Purchase a series HERE.
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