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The Foam Rolling You Should Be Doing (But Probably Aren't)

It's not just for your legs: These rolling patterns address trouble spots from head to toe.

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By now, most educated exercisers have joined the foam rolling revolution. But while your IT bands may be intimately familiar with the tool's hurts-so-good loosening powers, limiting your experience to the lower body minimizes the total-body benefits. To that end, Master Trainer Josh Stolz has designed this head-to-toe rolling regimen. "Each of these rolling patterns address the most problematic areas where personal trainers and coaches find movement dysfunction and pain," he explains. 

In the gifs above, Stolz demonstrates the better, smarter way to roll. "You should spend 30 seconds to a minute or more on each individual movement," he explains. "If it’s a regeneration or recovery day, take even more time, between 2 and 3 minutes for each move." 

And there's more to the technique than you might think—read on for Stolz's five most critical rules of foam rolling.

(1) Hydrate Ahead of Time. Even though foam rolling helps hydrate your tissue, you should down between 10 and 20 ounces of water beforehand, which helps prep the muscles for the work you're about to do. "In general, hydrated tissue is resilient and pliable while dehydrated tissue is glued-down and sticky, which creates adhesions and movement dysfunction," says Stolz. 

(2) Roll Before And After a Workout. Most of us wait until we wrap a session to hit the roller. Instead, Stolz suggests scrapping static stretching and using the tool for your pre-workout warm-up. "As much as it's a recovery tool, the foam roller is also a preparatory tool," says Stolz. "Think of foam rolling as a way to 'smooth' or 'iron out' the connective tissue and muscle. Foam rolling actually increases circulation so the connective tissue and muscle are getting more oxygen and water than if you just stretched." 

(3) Slow Your Roll. Foam rolling can hurt, and you're only human. But speeding through each movement is a wasted opportunity. "The biggest misuse I see is club members rolling extremely fast, most likely to avoid the discomfort of the roller," says Stolz. Instead, you want slow, purposeful motions. "If we go back to the ironing example, a quick-moving iron will not apply enough heat and/or steam and the article of clothing will still remain wrinkled. The key is to focus on these painful areas because they need the most attention and desperately need oxygen, water, and nutrients." (Note: Stolz may appear to be rolling quickly in the gifs, but that is an effect of the animation; his real-life movements are slow and concentrated.)

(4) Move In Multiple Directions. It's not just up-and-down, up-and-down. "If you look at the angle of how the muscle and fascia attach, it's not straight up and down—some fascial attachments run from front to back or in spirals," says Stolz. "The key is to not only slow down the foam rolling, but also add side-to-side movements, cross-friction (rubbing the spot being rolled side to side on the roller) and flexing and extending the joint being rolled." 

(5) Make It A Daily Ritual. Even on days that you're not in the gym, foam rolling should be part of your repertoire. "I try to use the foam roller daily as maintenance for my fascia," says Stolz. "It's kind of like flossing—you need to do it every day to make a difference even if it's only for 5 minutes." But deep cleaning is necessary, too. "I think an important fact to remember is that foam rolling doesn't take the place of a great massage or body working session."