How to Foam Roll the Muscles That Get Tight From a Sedentary Lifestyle

Photo: Stocksy / Jovo Jovanovic
Sedentary behavior can lead to a whole lot of tightness across your body. And the fact that your posture probably isn't the best doesn't help. "Over the course of the days, weeks, and months that poor posture continues, your muscles begin to adapt and get tighter and shorter," says Danielle Weis, PT, a physical therapist at Spring Forward Physical Therapy. Luckily, foam rolling can help combat the discomfort from the tightness you're experiencing.

To find relief, Dr. Weis says it's important to foam roll specific key areas of the body that get tight after a long day of working. "Your lower body gets tight from sitting with your knees and hips bent throughout the day, while the shoulders and upper back tend to round forward," she says. "Some great areas to foam roll to combat tightness in these regions are your hamstrings, quads, glutes, thoracic spine, and pecs."

How to foam roll tight muscles from sedentary behavior

Before you start foam rolling, Dr. Weis says there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, get yourself a good foam roller, like the 13-inch Trigger Point Grid ($35). Remember to breathe (which helps your muscles and nervous system relax), don't foam roll over any bony prominences. Also, don't do it if it hurts. "Foam rolling should not be painful," she says. "It should feel relieving and only mildly uncomfortable."

When it comes to foam rolling tight muscles from sedentary behavior, Dr. Weis says you should target four specific areas of your body.

1. Hamstrings

  1. Sit on the floor with one knee bent and the leg to be foam rolled straight out in front of you.
  2. Place the foam roller under your leg, just higher than the back of the knee. Place your hands behind you to provide support.
  3. Slightly lift (supporting yourself with your hands and the foot that's down) and slowly roll up and down the length of the hamstring, stopping before you hit your ischial tuberosity—aka the sitz bone.
  4. Repeat this between 1 to 3 minutes, stopping and hovering over areas of increased tightness.

2. Quads

  1. Lie on your stomach and position your forearms on the floor like you're going to do an elbow plank.
  2. Place the foam roller under your leg, just higher than the top of your knee. (You can roll both sides at once, or stack your feet and roll one at a time.)
  3. Slowly roll up and down the length of your thigh, stopping at the front hip crease.
  4. Repeat this between 1 to 3 minutes, stopping and hovering over areas of increased tightness.

3. Thoracic extension stretch

  1. Place the foam roller across the bottom of the shoulder blades. Bring your hands behind your head and support your head as you breathe in.
  2. As you exhale, slowly drop your head back and extend your back over the foam roller, using the weight your the upper body over the roller to create a stretch in the spine.
  3. Slowly repeat 2 to 3 times at that level, then roll your body down so the foam roller is then placed about half an inch up from where you just were.
  4. Repeat this extension process as you slowly breathe and extend over the roll. Do this until you reach the top of the shoulders.

Note: Here, you're using the foam roller by stretching over it, not by rolling. "The goal is to counteract the forwardly-rounded upper back position by creating an extension force with the foam roller in order to stretch the upper back segments," Dr. Weis says.

4. Pecs

  1. This technique will help stretch the front of the shoulders and chest. Lay on top of the foam roller lengthwise, supporting yourself from your head to the base of the spine.
  2. Bring your arms up into a goal post or cactus position with your elbow and shoulders at 90 degrees each.
  3. From this position, slowly raise your arms up toward your head, slightly straightening your elbows. Then bring them down, keeping your elbows bent and bringing them closer to your sides.
  4. If you hit a spot that feels particularly tight, hold that position for 5 to 10 seconds before you start moving again. Repeat this between 1 to 3 minutes.

For even more relief, try this 5-minute foam rolling routine:

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