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Foam Rolling

How to use a foam roller to stretch out four key areas of the leg. Giles Gyer from Osteon explains.

Hidden in the dusty corners of most gyms, or lurking under the bed next to the exercise equipment you thought looked awesome at 3am on that TV shopping channel, is a highly underrated piece of foam.

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Foam Roller

the foam roller

'So what does a roller actually do?' I hear you ask. In its most basic form the roller works on stretching muscles, helping your body to break down scar tissue and soft tissue adhesions, as well as decreasing tone in overactive muscle groups and improving the quality of movement.

The clever thing is that it uses your own body weight to do what is effectively your own deep tissue sports massage; it helps to work on those painful trigger points within the muscle. On tight fascia, it even helps to increase blood flow and circulation to muscles and soft tissue.

Now I am not saying it's the end of your trips to the sports massage therapist, but if used correctly it's an effective alternative and, after all, a foam roller is cost effective, you don't need an appointment, it's always available and it works.

There is one downside to this wonder foam though; using it correctly can be uncomfortable, even painful in parts. It's not for everyone and, after trying it out, you might even take me off your Christmas card list.

Key points for using the foam roller exercises:
  • Roll back and forth across the painful area for around 60 seconds
  • Spend extra time directly over the painful spot or trigger point itself, remembering to breathe and let the muscle relax
  • Avoid rolling over bony areas
  • Always stretch the area following foam rolling
  • And remember to do both sides


Upper Leg (Tensor Fascia Latae, Gluteus Med & Min)

Excessive tension in these muscles can lead imbalances around the hip and knee, leaving you exposed to injury. The TFL, if overly tight, puts excessive strain on the IT band. This typically results in lateral knee pain.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your side on the ground with the roller underneath the front portion of your hip
  • Place the same side elbow and the opposite hand/foot on the ground


Mid Leg (Iliotibial or ITB Band)

The roller is a great way to work on the ITB which is often excessively tight and can be incredibly difficult to stretch effectively.

How to do it:

  • Roll from the pelvis down the outside of the leg
  • Try working from the bottom of the hip to mid-thigh, then reposition and work from mid thigh to just above the knee using long broad strokes to hit the whole ITB
  • Don't roll onto the knee itself. Use your left leg to control the amount of pressure


Front Leg (Quadriceps)

Excessive tension in the quads can lead to anterior knee pain. The quads are often overused when the gluteals and/or psoas are not working properly.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your stomach on the ground with the roller underneath the front of your thighs
  • Place your elbows on the ground underneath your shoulders


Lower Leg (Calfs / Achilles)

Excessive tension in the lower legs can cause pain at the site of injury or further up the at the anterior/posterior knee.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the ground with your legs straight and your calf on top of the roller, by resting one foot on top of the other you increase the pressure making the movement more effective
  • Using your arms, press yourself up so that your buttocks are hovering over the ground