November 15, 2021 8 min read

We all know what it feels like to have a solid leg day only to be followed by leg tension and soreness in the muscles and joints. In fact, tight leg muscles are a common complaint among athletes and regular gym goers alike.

The good news is at least some of your leg tension can be relieved by using a foam roller after your workout. So, are you ready to get all of those tight spots out of your legs? Keep reading to learn how to use a foam roller to relieve leg tension.

Foam Roller Gym Fitness Equipment

What is a Foam Roller?

Before we dive into using a foam roller for leg tension, it’s important to go over what a foam roller is and why you should be using one no matter what type of athlete you are.

foam roller is a large piece of foam that comes in many shapes and sizes. Some foam rollers even have ridges and spikes, but it is best to stick with a smooth foam roller until you are more experienced at foam rolling. 

In the past, only physical therapists, serious athletes, and personal trainers would use these foam rollers to help relieve muscle tension, also known as self-myofascial release.

Foam rollers are no longer just for elite athletes and anyone can benefit from using them at home. Even for those who aren't athletes, using a foam roller is a nice little self-massage that helps relieve tight muscles, so don't be afraid to get everyone in your house involved in a foam rolling routine. 

What Are the Benefits of Foam Rolling?

Muscle is a soft tissue, and as a result, it can often get knots, even just from normal everyday use. When this happens, unless the knot is released, tension will build. This tension will cause the individual with the knot increasing pain until they address the issue.

Self-myofascial release, the fancy term for foam rolling, refers to when an athlete uses a foam roller to relieve the tension in their muscles.

It has several important benefits for the human body, which is why athletes use it. Below are the benefits you can reap from foam rolling.

  • Aids muscle recovery
  • Helps return muscles to normal function
  • Keeps muscles healthy
  • Relieves muscle pain/sore muscles 
  • Enhances performance
  • Increased range of motion

As you can see, if you are serious about getting into shape, then you better add a foam roller to your workout gear because using it after a workout will aid both your recovery and future performance as an athlete.

Other Reasons You Should Use a Foam Roller

Besides the reasons mentioned above, a foam roller can be beneficial when it comes to combating back pain. This is because there are many muscle groups that contribute to pain in both your lower and upper back, and caring for these muscles can help relieve your pain. When it comes to the tension in your legs, foam rolling these muscle groups regularly can help relieve lower back pain which may arise because of tight quadriceps or hamstrings. 

When Should You Use a Foam Roller?

For best results, you should use a foam roller directly after you work out in order to prevent soreness. But you can also foam roll before you work out as a warm-up, or anytime during the day when you feel muscle tension. If you feel muscle tension in a particular spot regularly, this is what is known as a trigger point. Trigger points are different for everyone, but it is important that you take care of these areas, otherwise they could contribute to a future injury.

Regardless of how often you work out, you should aim to use your foam roller at least three times per week for the best results. You can do it while you watch TV, as part of your nightly routine, or right when you wake up in the morning to help get yourself ready for the day.

Foam Roller Exercises to Relieve Leg Tension

 

Ready to relieve your leg tension with a foam roller? There are a few muscle groups you should target as you foam roll using the following exercises. Before you begin, be sure that you have plenty of room on the floor and a medium to firm thickness foam roller.

    1. Quads

      It is essential to foam roll your quads frequently. This is because sitting at a desk all day disrupts the blood flow to the back of your legs and can cause tension. Use this exercise to release tension in your quads.

      • Start in a face-down plank position.
      • Place the foam roller under your quads
      • Roll your body down the roller using your core and upper body.
      • Roll your body back up the roller using the same muscles as before, stopping when you reach the top of the quads.
      • Repeat for 30 seconds, holding your position whenever you hit a tender spot.

        2. Calves

          If you are a runner, biker, or maybe just had a really difficult leg day, chances are you are feeling some tension in your claves. When this is the case it’s definitely time to pull out the foam roller and try this next foam rolling exercise.

          • Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you
          • Place the foam roller under your calves
          • Use your arms to lift your body off the floor so that all of your weight is on the foam roller.
          • Cross one of your legs on top of the other
          • Roll your body back and forth so that to foam roller goes from your ankle to the bottom of your knee and back.
          • Repeat for 30 seconds.
          • Switch so that the other leg is on top, then repeat for another 30 seconds.

            3. Hip Flexors

              Maybe you thought because you don’t work a desk job that you could get away without having leg tension. The reality is, even if you stand all day for your job, you can still have tension, especially in your hip flexors. So if you’ve just completed a long day of work on your feet, come home and try this foam roller exercise.

              • Start in the plank position
              • Place the foam roller under either your left or right hip
              • Roll your body both up and down and side to side on the foam roller, being sure the roller touches all parts of your hip flexor.
              • Repeat for 30 seconds.
              • Switch to the other hip and repeat for another 30 seconds.

                3. Hamstrings

                  Hamstrings are one of the most commonly pulled muscles in athletes, and this happens because they are often improperly stretched after a demanding exercise like squats.

                  Use this next foam roller exercise on your hamstrings on a regular basis to be sure you don’t put yourself out of the gym for weeks with an injury.

                  • Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you
                  • Place the foam roller underneath your hamstrings
                  • Use your arms to lift your body so all of your weight is on the foam roller.
                  • Move your body up and down the foam roller, going all the way to the top of your hamstrings to the base at the top of your knee.
                  • Repeat for 30 seconds, pausing when you feel an especially tender spot.

                    4. IT Band

                      Did you know that there is a connective tissue in your legs that may be causing tension in your legs? It’s called the IT band (or iliotibial band) and it runs down the outside of your hip from your hip to your knee.

                      If you’ve tried every other foam roller exercise on this list and still have tight legs, it’s time to try this next foam roller exercise which is specifically for the IT band.

                      • Lie on your right side or your left side on the floor
                      • Position the foam roller under your IT band (your outer thigh)
                      • Rest your body weight on your forearm that is closest to the floor. Straighten the leg that is touching the foam roller. The other leg should be bent at the knee with your foot placed on the floor.
                      • Roll your body up and down the foam roller, stopping at your hip and the upper part of your knee.
                      • Repeat for 30 seconds, taking extra time at any tender spots.
                      • Switch sides and repeat for another 30 seconds.

                        6. Shin

                          It isn’t very often that you will experience soreness in your shin, but there is a tendon that runs from the front of your knee to your ankle that can be pulled and experience tension. When that happens, try this foam roller exercise. 

                          • Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Your hands should be flat on the floor.
                          • Place the foam roller under either your left or right shin
                          • Move your leg forward and back, rolling the foam roller from the bottom of your knee to the top of your foot and back.
                          • Repeat this for 30 seconds.
                          • Switch the foam roller to the other leg and repeat for 30 seconds. 

                          It is important to note that there is some shin pain that cannot be solved with a foam roller, such as shin splints which often happen as a result of running. If you think that you may have shin splints, you should discontinue using a foam roller and speak to a professional, as putting pressure on shin splints can make them worse. 

                          Other Body Parts

                          Although this article only covers relieving muscle soreness in the right and left legs, don't be afraid to use the foam roller on other parts of your body.

                          You can use a foam roller to help relieve muscle soreness in the following places:

                          • Between the shoulder blades
                          • Upper back
                          • Lower back
                          • Mid-back
                          • Lats
                          • Glutes

                          Remember, soreness doesn’t always correlate to the muscle group where you are feeling the pain. This is why it is recommended that you foam roll all parts of your body at some point during the week. 

                          Is There Anyone Who Should Not Use a Foam Roller?

                          Generally, all athletes are advised to invest in a foam roller and use it after their workout. If you are using a foam roller, and experience a sharp pain, however, you should discontinue use until you speak to a doctor or personal trainer, as there may be something you are doing incorrectly. 

                          Tips for Beginners Using a Foam Roller

                          Although the benefits of using a foam roller are many, the first time you try to use one, you will probably experience some pain. This is because using a foam roller is a bit of a learning curve. Use the following tips to be sure you don't injure yourself the first time you try foam roller exercises. 

                            1. Invest in a Good Foam Roller

                              Foam rollers can be expensive, and this can lead to people thinking they will use something that is not a foam roller as a foam roller. This is very dangerous. Foam rollers are specially designed to gently get the knots out of your soft tissue. Do not swap them out for anything else. The advice of the professionals is to get the best foam roller that you can afford.

                                2. Do One Leg at a Time

                                  For the hamstring and quad foam roller exercises above, the instructions direct you to do both the left and right leg at the same time. It will be easier for you to notice trigger points and tough spots if you only do one leg at a time. So for your first few foam roller sessions, do the right leg first, followed by the left leg no matter which muscle group you are working out. 

                                    3. Take Your Time

                                      As mentioned above, it will probably hurt the first time you use a foam roller on your sore muscles. Avoid the urge to rush through the aforementioned exercises. They are recommended to be that long by professionals, and it is for a reason that you perform each exercise for 30 seconds. 

                                        4. If it Hurts too Bad, Discontinue

                                          Even though it is supposed to hurt a bit when you use a foam roller, it should not be unbearable. If you find that you have shooting pains anywhere in your lower body as you roll out the muscle tension in your legs, discontinue using the foam roller until you speak to a professional as there may be something wrong. 

                                          Get Ready to Roll! (Foam Roll That is!)

                                          Now that you know all about how to use a foam roller, it's time to go out and buy one that will have you and your muscles recovering like royalty. Just remember to take it slow, and to follow all the instructions when it comes to foam rolling exercises.

                                          And if you are serious about avoiding injuries as you work to achieve your dream body be sure to check out these other warm-up exercises that can help you to stay in tip-top shape.