Top 5 Foam Rolling Exercises + Tips

1) Upper Back (Thoracic Spine)

If you’re sitting at a computer right now, take a moment and notice what your upper back is doing. Are you hunched over, sinking into your shoulders, or are you one of the rare people who easily sits with their back straight and their head in alignment with the shoulders? Most likely you’re sitting with a hunched back. We all do it, so instead of beating yourself up about it, make time each day to roll the upper back (thoracic spine).

Start: lay on the floor on your back with the foam roller horizontal and under the shoulder blades. Bend the knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Engage the core to lift the butt off the floor as you dig into the heels and lace your hands behind your head. You can also cross your arms over your chest.

Roll: Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged, slowly roll up and down, from the shoulders to the bottom of the rib cage.

Tip: Keep the back of your neck long so the head doesn’t fall too far forward or too far back.

2) Quadriceps

The quads are workhorses, so treat them right by giving them a nice roll each morning and each night.

Start: Lying face down with arms stretched in front of you, palm down, and with the foam roller placed horizontally and directly under your hips. Press into your hands to bring all of your weight onto the foam roller. Your feet will not be touching the ground, so you can point your toes.

Roll: Again, engaging your abdominal muscles, press into your hands and begin rolling up and down from the hips down to just above the knees. *do NOT roll over your kneecaps. It will not feel good at all!

Tip: If you feel the need to up the intensity, lean on one quad at a time and go really, really s l o w.

3) Iliotobial (IT) Band

For me, these puppies are the sorest and tightest part of my legs! The key here is to go super slow and pause on the most painful parts to really spend some time working out the knots.

Start: I like to start as if I’m going to roll my quads, and then roll to one side until my hips and feet are stacked. If that’s too intense you can place the upper foot on the floor with the knee bent, creating a grasshopper look with your body. You’re still pressing into the palms of the hands to prop yourself up.

Roll: Roll that sideline of your thigh up and down from above the kneecap to the hip. Go super slow, and when you find the most painful spots, pause there and roll forward and back (like a swivel motion) with your hips very slowly to massage it out. Then switch sides. I suggest 3 minutes on each side, but start with what you can do and build from there.

Tip: Spend as much time as you need on the super painful spots. Breathe deeply as you work on them. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. It does get less painful the more often you roll the IT Band, so commit to rolling them daily!

4) Hamstrings + Glutes

The hamstrings and glutes are also workhorses in the body, so let’s show them some love as well.

Start: Sit on top of your roller, which is positioned horizontally on your mat, with your legs stretched out in front of you, and your hands on the floor behind you to support your body and modulate how deep you go into it.

Roll: Use your arms to start yourself rolling up and down from your glutes to just above the back of your knees.

Tip: I like to play with rolling my legs in and out (so feet turned in, and the feet turned out) to cover the entire back area of my legs. I also like to lean more into each leg, one at a time, to give them some more individual love.

5) Calves

These babies are pretty tight on a lot of people. Even one extra hike a week can make the calf muscles tighten up on you, so make sure to roll them before and after any walk, run, or hike that you do and reap the benefits of happy calf muscles!

Start: Sit on the floor with the foam roller positioned horizontally and under the bottom of your calf muscles, near the Achilles tendon, which you can roll as well. Put your hands on the floor behind you and squeeze the abdominals to lift your butt. Now all of your weight is in the hands and the roller, so firm up those shoulders and abdominals!

Roll: Start slow and begin rolling up and down from the Achilles tendons to the upper calf muscles.


Tip: If I’m rolling the right calf muscle, I like to place the left foot on top of the right shin bone to get a little bit deeper into it, but only try that if you think you need it.

Bottom line:

Roll these muscles every day, twice a day if possible, ideally before and after a workout for maximum results.

Roll s l o w l y. Speed actually makes rolling less effective, so keep it slow and mindful. The deeper you’re rolling, the slower you should roll.


Stay focused. This is not the time to read your ebook or text your friend. You want to be in tune with your body and where it needs the rolling.

Which of these is your favorite?