The Foam Rolling Move You Need for Every Kind of Workout on Your to-Do List

Photo: Getty Images/ miljko
No matter what type of workout sparks joy in your life, any trainer will tell you that there's one vital component of recovery that every exercise junkie needs to add to their routines: foam rolling. But just as there is no one-size-fits-all equation for a fitness regimen (you may love bootcamps while your best friend swears by barre class), there's no universally effective foam-rolling move, either. In fact, you can—and actually, should—be catering your foam-rolling routine to your workout for the sake of an effective recovery.

"A full-body routine is always beneficial for all workouts, however different workouts require different mechanics that emphasize certain muscle groups over others, and each workout will have different primary movers that drive our capabilities,” explains Corinne Croce, DPT, cofounder of New York City’s Body Evolved. "It's wise to perform sport-specific foam rolling drills so you are focusing on the muscles that drive the work and effect performance the most."

So whether you're tapping it back on the spin bike or down dogging it out on your yoga mat, here's how to cater your foam rolling routine (which, FYI, can be done before or after your sweat sesh) to whatever specific workout is on the menu. And yes, your muscles will thank you later.

If you can't get enough running or spinning:

Inner thigh foam rolling drill: Keep your legs from feeling the usual day-two soreness with two easy moves following an intense cardio sesh. "The inner thigh muscles (adductors) are powerful knee-stabilizing muscles, and the work very hard while running and spinning, meaning they often end up with restricted mobility," says Croce. "Perform this drill to warm up or release your inner thighs pre- or post-spin class or run."

Start by positioning the foam roller perpendicular to the upper part of your leg and find a "sore" spot. Gently pressing into the foam roller with the inside of your thigh, move your hip through internal and external rotation. Use your breathing to guide the movements, starting with a big inhale and moving through your exhalation. Work different areas throughout the length of the muscle with 10 reps on each spot.

Quad and IT band foam rolling drill: As anyone who's ever run or taken a spin class knows, both activities can be tough on your quads. "Working the tissue of the quad at the border of the IT Band will be beneficial," says Croce. "Keeping proper muscle length and the tissue of the quads healthy will help prevent knee and hip injuries, increase the endurance, power, and activation efficiency of the quads during running and spinning and allow for proper mechanics."

Place the foam roller at the portion of the quad closest to the IT band (where your hip meets your leg), and move the knee through flexion while taking some nice, deep breaths. Keep your hips pushed forward with your foot relaxed, and pause at end range and straighten the knee out. "Be sure to do this on different areas throughout the length of quad and IT band junction, and focus the work on areas that feel restricted, thickened, or extra 'sore,'" says Croce. Repeat for 10 reps on each sore spot.

If you're on your yoga mat all the time:

Thoracic extension foam rolling mobility drill: Even if you're treating your yoga class itself as a recovery day, you should be regularly rolling it out in order to avoid soreness when you step off the mat. "Yoga is great way to practice lengthening movements, however you want to be sure you're moving from the right places to maximize the benefits," says Croce, noting that lumbar spine injuries are extremely common, and addressing thoracic mobility can help prevent or rehab these issues.

Before or after your practice, place the foam roller beneath the bony bones of the scapula (those two shoulder bones that stick out on your back), and keep your neck supported by your hands with your fingers intertwined and elbows drawn in. Keeping light tension in your abs (which will prevent your lower spine from moving around), drive the elbows away from your knees, actively pulling your thoracic spine into extension. "Utilize your breathing technique, inhaling before the movement and exhaling through the entire repetition," says Croce. Repeat 10 times.

If you're hitting up (literally) boxing class on the reg:

Tricep foam rolling drill: Soreness from a series of hooks and jabs will be no match for this tricep foam-rolling move. "Boxing involves powerful extension of the elbow engaging the triceps to be a big player," explains Croce. "To avoid overuse elbow injuries and maximize the length and power of your tricep, it's important to keep this often overlooked area of the body with proper soft tissue mobility."

Lying on your side, put your arm straight over your head with the foam roller underneath, and rotate your palm down with your arm rotating in the same direction in order to get the back of your arm with the foam roller. Pause, then reverse your rotation. Using your breath, work through 10 reps on each side.

If you're diving in the lap pool daily:

Lat, shoulder, T-spine foam rolling drill: Whether you're a backstroke or free-style kind of swimmer, proper mobility of the lats, shoulders, and T-spine tissue is important for proper shoulder mechanics to prevent injury and maximize stroke power and efficiency. Use the foam roller to work these upper quadrants of the body pre- or post-swimming.

Position your foam roller right below your armpit with your arm reaching up and away from the floor, and raise your arm high off the floor. Continue moving through the range of motion by ending at the elbow and reaching your hand behind your back. Repeat 10 times and be sure to pause in each end range.

In addition to muscle recovery, foam rolling can also help banish bloating (and yes, my mind is blown, too). And here's exactly when you should be doing it in your routine for the best results. 

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