What Does the Foam Roller Do?

By Donna Gambino, Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Pilates Instructor

As most of my new clients look at the foam roller I see the question (and sometimes fear) in their eyes- “What is laying on that thing going to do for me?”  This cylindrical piece of foam that my clients have been enjoying for years and that you may have seen in your gyms will help you in many amazing ways.

Foam rollers are routinely used now in physical therapy, Pilates classes, gyms and sports training settings to help clients with pain syndromes, postural problems, back problems, tight muscles and more.  You can use the roller for stretching, strengthening exercises or self- massage. Here are just a few other reasons why you may want to add the foam roller into your fitness routine.

• The roller will help you to improve your body awareness – your joint, limb and body position in space.  This will help throughout your day with all the changes in walking, sitting, standing and strain for your electronic devices.

• Since the roller is unstable you will enhance your balance reactions throughout your body. This will help you to recover quickly when you lose your balance or are challenged in a sport or activity that requires quick movements.

• You will activate the deep core muscles. These muscles help stabilize your spine, strengthening and protecting your back and allowing you to transfer energy out to those hard working limbs. By working on the unstable surface like a roller these muscles fire more competently.

• Your posture is improved by working the core muscles and creating balance between both sides of your body and by encouraging your spine to return to its neutral posture. Neutral posture in the natural position of the spine where all our bones need to be in order to be happy.

• By using the roller for self -massage techniques you will feel deep myofascial stretches and releases in your muscles that will leave you feeling relaxed, lengthened and free of tiny muscle spasms known as trigger points.

• You will also re-educate and strengthen muscles you haven’t used in a long time. Not only will you work your abdominal and back muscles, but the deepest muscles around your entire spine.

• Exercises will be slow, thought-filled and controlled because you are on an unstable surface. Performing exercises more slowly can make a seemingly simple exercise much more difficult. It also allows you to focus on breathing, and executing the moves with precision.

In my Pilates classes we usually begin class on the roller. This allows the clients, after a hard day of work or slouching at their desks to relax, balance out their posture and muscles before beginning their exercise routine.

So next time you are at a gym and see a foam roller, grab a trainer and have them show you how to use it.  You will be amazed at how such a simple foam roller can change the way you feel in a short period of time.

 Note: The foam roller is not for everyone, so please check with your physical therapist, fitness professional or physician to see if you have any medical issues that would not allow you to use the roller safely. 

 Donna Gambino, is author of “On a Roll @ Home, Home Exercises for Core Strength and Massage on the Foam Roller”. To find out more info about her books, classes and training visit



What does the Foam Roller do ?