Foam Rollers: Self-Massage Techniques for Legs

I’ll never forget the day my massage therapist told me: “You could either get a foam roller and start using it at home or you could start paying me a whole lot of money.” Let’s just say he got my attention. As a cyclist, my legs are punished five days a week and I’d been using massage therapy (trigger point and deep tissue work) to break-up some nasty adhesions I’d developed over the years. I was astonished by the impact that fifteen to thirty minutes per day of foam roller work had on my post-exercise soreness and overall range of motion.

While I’m only seeing my massage therapist twice a month now, much of that is due to the foam roller work he encourages me to pursue. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or simply seek a self-massage technique for relaxation, here are three leg massages you can perform with a foam roller. I do the below messages daily, spending anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour on my legs alone.

Foam Roller Leg Massage #1: Hamstrings

Position your foam roller underneath your knees, using your hands for balance either out to the side or behind you. Slowly roll the roller up toward the crease where your buttocks meet your glutes. Use your natural bodyweight to apply pressure – your upper body can either lift you away from the roller or relax you deeper into the roller. When you hit a point that is particularly stressful, use deep breathing and roll back and forth over that section quickly. Can be done on a single leg.

Foam Roller Leg Massage #2: Calves

Position your foam roller behind your ankles, using your upper body once again for support. Slowly roll the roller from your ankles up to you knees. Again, when you hit an area that causes particular stress, gently roll the roller back and forth over that area quickly until the discomfort subsides. To further enhance this exercise, you can perform it single-legged and roll your body toward the outside and inside when you reach the middle to top portion of the calf. This will access the lateral and medial sides of the gastrocnemius.

Foam Roller Leg Massage #3: Quadriceps

In a face-down position, place the foam roller just above your kneecaps, supporting yourself with your arms. Gradually roll the roller up to your hip joint. Use the same rocking technique described above to gently focus on areas of more stress. This exercise is also very effective when performed on a single leg. You can modify the exercise on a single leg by rolling more to the outside of your hip and rolling the roller down the side of your leg.

Nathan Joynt works with a leading yoga and pilates company.

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