There are two types of people.
The ones who foam roll and ones who can’t be bothered.
Now, I’m not saying the second group are a bunch of losers wasting precious time in the gym buttttt…
But seriously if you don’t foam roll, I HIGHLY urge you to start today.
These days, most people are familiar with foam rolling and its many benefits. The biggest benefit is its regular practice and drastically decrease the risk of injury by releasing muscle tightness. This release can also help the muscles engage better during exercise, relief back tightness and allow you to feel more mobile and strong during your weightlifting.
So that all sounds awesome and stuff, but when is the best time to use a foam roller? Some experts advise foam rolling before a workout, and others say after is better. The best answer, honestly, can be determined when you establish your personal reason for foam rolling.
The Best Way to Foam Roll
I’ll tell you right now. I see people with the best intentions in the gym using their foam roller in all kinds of wrong ways. I mean, some is better than none for sure, but don’t be that guy.
Let me help out a bit.
As a personal trainer, I always advise people to roll their hips. Even the most active people spend a lot of their day sitting, even if not for their job. We sit when commuting in our cars or on the bus and subway. We sit when watching Sunday Night Football. Thus, I theorize we all have some form of hip tightness that can cause back pain, weak glutes and reduced strength over time.
Thus, you should always roll out your quads, calves and down the sides of your legs. Using a foam roller on your lats can’t hurt either.
Just want to put pressure on these areas and GO SLOWLY. You’re on a foam roller, not a factory conveyor belt. Give the roller some time to actually do some work on your central nervous system in order to trigger relaxation in the muscle. As painful as it may be, this means it’s working. So when you find a tight and painful spot, just breathe, relax, count to 10 and move on to the next spot.
Just don’t overdo it to the point that the spot is sore or excessively painful. Not only can this cause bruising which can hinder consistent rolling in the future, but overdoing it can send a message to your nervous system that the muscle is in danger of harm which will cause you to tighten, making it difficult for the roller to serve its purpose.
The Best Time to Foam Roll
If you’re weightlifing or engaging in other types of training where you need to be mobile or agile, you definitely want to roll right before working out. Spend about 10-15 minutes rolling out pre-exercise.
This goes double if you’ve just come off of a shift at your desk job and headed straight to the gym because your hips are very likely in peak tightness mode.
I like to bring my foam roller to the gym with me and get er done in the stretching area just because I get paranoid the drive over will tighten me up again from sitting in the car and want to be as fresh as possible. I really don’t think it makes too much of a difference, but take note of what makes you feel your best.
Side note: you optimize the benefits of foam rolling when you also spend about 10 minutes stretching afterward. Since foam rolling reduces the neuroactivity of your muscles, they can stretch way better than stretching, you know, raw.
Now, do you need to roll after your workout also? Honestly, let’s save some time and get it out there that I advise always foam rolling before and after a workout every time if you have the time.
However, if you aren’t one that has trouble with muscle soreness or if you don’t work out super regularly (like if you only lifting intensely 2-3 times a week), it’s probably not super necessary. However, since foam rolling does speed up the process of clearing the acid buildup that causes muscle soreness, you should absolutely foam roll after your workout.
Especially if you’re 5-6 times a week type of tenacious.
Do You Need to Foam Roll if You Don’t Work Out?
It’s super important that I mention that foam rolling isn’t just reserved for the hyper-active. Thus, these timing recommendations shouldn’t just be timed around exercise because…what if you don’t have a consistent exercise regimen?
What if you have no regimen at all?
Guess what? You still need to foam roll.
I highly recommend rolling either first thing in the morning before you start your day or before bed. And you know what I’m about to say…
OBVIOUSLY BOTH IS BETTER THAN ONE.
However, if you have to choose one – I would go with first thing in the morning. We spend hours and hours of our sleeping time being practically immobile and stiff. Because, well, that’s what sleeping is.
So it makes sense you feel tight first thing in the morning. Foam rolling this “morning tightness” out can make you feel mobile and refreshed going into your day which can really improve your mood and maybe even relieve some stress just from loosening up your body before you even send that first email.
Most people like to foam roll at night if they want this same relaxation, de-stressing effect to add to their nightly routine. If this is something you’re craving, then bedtime foam rolling is the deal for you.
The bottom line?
Listen to your body and don’t overdo it, obviously, but foam rolling three to four times a day (before and after working out and at the beginning and end of your day) appears to be the most ideal situation.
For most of us that simply don’t have time for all of that, rolling just before exercise for the moderately active and rolling first thing in the morning for the less active is when you should foam roll.
I will never shut up about foam rolling on this blog because its practice is infinitely valuable to ALL HUMANS. We all move. This means we all experience muscle tightness which means we all can benefit from relieving that tightness. And the consequences of letting this tightness go too far is not worth saving 10 measly minutes you probably would have spent scrolling through Tiktok.