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12 foam roller exercises to relieve sore muscles

Want to get more out of rest days? Foam rolling will help your muscles recover faster.
You can use a foam roller to relieve tension in any body part, from your upper back to your calves.
You can use a foam roller to relieve tension in any body part, from your upper back to your calves.FreshSplash / Getty Images

I always build rest days into my client’s workout plans — but that doesn’t mean no activity at all! I recommend doing easy movement like walking or yoga, plus some stretching or foam rolling to help release tension in the muscles.

If you’re sore from a workout and want to speed up your recovery, foam rolling is the way to do it!

Foam rolling is an excellent rest day activity since it relieves muscle tightness and soreness. It’s also a great way to warm up the muscle pre-workout or help release tension and cool down afterwards. Consistency with foam rolling can improve your range of motion, effectively preventing injury. 

There are a variety of foam rollers that you can use. The most basic and gentlest foam roller is one without any grooves that feels smooth to the touch. There are other foam rollers, like the one I use, that’s more intense because of the grooves that get deeper into the muscles. I regularly stretch and massage my muscles, so because my muscles are generally loose, I like the intensity of this type of foam roller. However, I don’t recommend this one for beginners!

Whether using foam rolling to warm up or cool down on a workout day or to release some tension from post-workout soreness on a rest day, these foam roller exercises will get the job done.

Upper back foam roller stretch

Upper back

Sit on the floor with the foam roller situated perpendicular to your spine. Lie your upper back on the foam roller and place your hands behind your head. Lift your butt off the floor and keep your feet flat on the ground. Use your core to support you as you push off your feet to slowly roll up your spine and then return to the starting position. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Thoracic spine foam roller exercise

Thoracic spine

In a seated position on the floor, place the foam roller behind you, parallel to your spine. Next, lie down on the foam roller so that it aligns down your spine vertically, with your head resting at the very top. Rest your butt and both feet flat on the floor with knees bent. Stretch both arms out in a “T” position. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, taking deep breaths.

Lats foam roller exercise

Lats

Place the foam roller on the floor horizontal to your body. Lie on your right side with the foam roller positioned under your right armpit and your right arm extended. Keep your right leg extended straight on the floor and place your left foot flat on the floor with knee bent. Use your left leg to push off the floor and lift your hips up; roll your body up and down a few inches, feeling the foam roller roll over the lat muscle. Repeat for 20-30 seconds. Then switch sides and repeat.

Open book foam roller exercise

Open book

Lie down on your right side with your right arm extended straight out in front of you. Keep the right leg extended straight. Bend your left leg at a 90-degree angle in front of you and position the foam roller under your leg so that the area from your knee to your ankle is resting on the roller. Then, place your left arm across the right arm like a closed book. Next, open the left arm out and to the left side extending it straight, as if you’re opening up the book. Turn your head to look over the left shoulder. Repeat the motion of closing and opening the book for 10 repetitions. Then, complete the movement on the opposite side.

Calves foam roller exercise

Calves

In a seated position, place the foam roller horizontally under both calves with legs extended straight. Next, position your hands behind you, pressing down to lift your butt off the floor. This will put more weight on your calves to feel the foam roller press deeper into the muscle. Next, use your hands to move your body back and forth so that the foam roller moves up and down your lower legs. Repeat the movement for 20-30 seconds.

IT band foam roller exercise

IT band

Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body. Using your hands for balance, lower down into a side-lying position on your right side with your right hip resting on the roller. Keep your right leg straight, and your left leg bent, with your foot resting on the floor in front of your right shin. Use the left leg to roll your body up and down, feeling the roller roll up and down your IT band. Roll from the hip to the knee area to get the full benefits of this foam rolling exercise. Repeat for 20-30 seconds, then complete on the other side. 

Hamstrings foam roller exercise

Hamstrings

Start in a seated position. Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body under your hamstrings. Position both hands behind you, pushing into the floor to raise your butt off the ground. Use your hands to move your body back and forth over the foam roller from the bottom of your hips to your knees. Repeat for 30 seconds. 

Quadriceps foam roller exercise

Quadriceps

Set the foam roller on the floor in front of you, perpendicular to your body. Lie face down, positioning the foam roller below your hips and above your knees. Rest your weight on the foam roller, placing your hands on the floor and using them to roll your body up and down. Then, raise your feet off the ground to allow your full weight to press down into the foam roller for the ultimate stretch! Repeat for 30 seconds. 

Low Back foam roller stretch

Low back

Start in a seated position. Place the foam roller behind you, perpendicular to your spine. Sit back, resting your low back on the roller and raising your hips off the floor. Press off your feet to roll the foam roller from your hips to mid-back. Repeat for 30 repetitions.

Child’s pose foam roller exercise

Child’s pose

Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Extend your knees to the width of your mat with toes touching behind you. Place the foam roller horizontal in front of you. Place your wrists on the foam roller and push your hips back to lower into child’s pose. Hold for 30 seconds.

Outer thigh foam roller exercise

Outer thigh

Start in a side plank position on the right side. Place the foam roller on the ground under your right leg. Lower your outer thigh onto the foam roller, setting your elbow on the ground under your shoulder. Bend your left leg, placing it on the floor in front of your right knee. Push off the left leg to roll back and forth from the knee to the hip. Continue for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other leg. 

Glutes foam roller exercise

Glutes

Sit on the floor and place the foam roller horizontally on the ground behind you. Sit on the foam roller, setting both hands behind you on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left knee to roll out your left glute. Roll back and forth for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.