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Exercise in Your Home: Foam Roller

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Published on April 3, 2020

Key Takeaways

What is a foam roller, and why should you use one? Watch now as cancer exercise specialist Cathy Skinner demonstrates how to use this simple yet effective exercise tool. She also describes the potential benefits of using a foam roller and explains how releasing tension in one part of the body can have a positive impact on other parts of the body. 

If you have a foam roller at home, join Cathy as she provides step-by-step instructions in this easy-to-follow video. Cathy is the Founder and CEO of THRIVORS and has been providing exercise and wellness training for cancer survivors since 2008. 


Transcript | Exercise in Your Home: Foam Roller

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Cathy Skinner:

Well, hello. My name is Cathy Skinner, and I'm the CEO and founder of Thrivors. I'm excited to be with you today at Patient Power. Today we're going to look at some exercises that you can do with this, a foam roll. It's a great tool to help relieve tension in your muscles. We'll do a few exercises today that you can do in the safety and comfort of your own home, and you could get something like this at Target or at Amazon, very inexpensive. So, get a foam roll, and we'll show you how to use it.

If you have tight muscles, I like to work from the bottom to the top. What we're going to do is start with calf muscles first. You're going to place the foam roll under your calf, and you can use your arms and your other leg to raise up and then put a little pressure on that muscle, and you simply roll it back and forth very slowly. See if you can find any tight points in the muscle.

Now, you might feel this doesn't really feel like much, so you could add a little bit of pressure by crossing the other leg over. You'll need some upper body strength then to raise your hips off the ground and to roll it back and forth. And what's nice about releasing the tension in your calves is it actually translates to greater flexibility in your ankles, and greater flexibility in your ankles actually means you have better balance, and you reduce your risk of falls.

You can roll out on one calf. And then of course, don't forget to switch on the other one. And maybe you just want to do enough pressure where you have support from the other leg in your arms. Those hips need to come up, and you can work through the tension on that muscle. That's a smaller muscle group.

Another significant muscle group is in your backside or your glutes. You literally sit on the foam roll, cross one ankle over the knee, and then roll on that side of your hip and your backside. Now, you might find some tense muscles here, and you just take your time. It actually works better if you pause on the tight spot. Breathe in, breathe out, and wait for that muscle to release.

So, if you roll really quickly back and forth on the foam roll, what can happen is the muscles can react against that motion and actually tighten up instead of loosen. I'm going to ask that you go slow, and you pause, and then you take your time so that the muscles release. Of course, you would do it on one side and cross, either reach and shift your weight, add more challenge by crossing ankle over knee and press into the opposite hip. Take some time to do these stretches. You could spend 15 minutes, 20 minutes. Really it's the amount of time that you put into it is the benefit that you'll get out of it.

The other thing I like to do with the foam roll is release the muscles that are tight in my back. I bring my hands behind my head and neck, I lift my hips up, and then I roll carefully to the middle of my back and then slowly to the upper back. And if you want to get into the shoulders and the neck, you can press your hips up to get into those muscles. And again, you're going to go slow, so you don't get the muscles to clamp down, but actually start to relax and let go. I wouldn't go any further than the middle of the back, because getting into the low back with a foam roll is really difficult and not that great and that safe for your low back. It's pretty tough.

The other stretch is to come on to your stomach and put the foam roll on your quad—so the front of your legs. You have your elbows down, your two legs on the foam roll and again, you're going to roll forward and back—taking your time. You might find some tender spots. And as you come forward, you can move your elbows a little bit. Here's where it gets interesting. You can shift your weight to a side of one of the legs, get after a quad muscle, you might feel some tenderness.

This is the kind of stretch that doesn't feel great when you're doing it, but you feel great later. And again, you can shift the weight to the other side. And again, you're moving slowly through the tight muscles, waiting for them to let go, finding those pressure points.

The last stretch I want to show you is not really a pressure point but utilizing the foam roll to create some openness. I walk my hands forward, I press my hips back, and I stretch through the shoulders. The foam roll allows me to gain some reach and extension. That feels really good. Utilizing the foam roll, getting your calves, getting your glutes, getting your quads, different parts of the lower extremities can increase blood flow, reduce tension and stress, improve your balance, and overall make you feel a lot better. And it's a simple, inexpensive way to take care of some of those tight muscles.

Again, I'm Cathy Skinner. I'm the founder of Thrivors, and you can find us at I'm so happy to spend some time with you today at Patient Power. I encourage you to check out the Patient Power website and to utilize all the great resources that are there. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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