A woman uses a foam roller on her leg muscles

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3 Foam Roller Moves to Soothe Sore Legs

Here’s how to show your lower half a little love.

By Emily LaurenceMarch 18, 2024


For many people, their workout time is sacred. Clipping into the Peloton Bike, going for a run, moving into Downward Dog, hitting a punching bag…No matter what your go-to form of fitness is, it’s time to be valued. But so often the workout itself is the main event that there’s not any thought at all given to recovery—and that’s bad news if you want to keep being able to move your body without experiencing pain. 

If your legs are feeling so tight that touching your toes seems impossible, you’re long overdue for some lower body foam rolling. Recovery and foam rolling may seem less exciting than your actual workout, but it’s key for soothing your sore legs. And it can feel really, really good too. Not sure where to start? This guide to foam rolling your legs has you covered. 

What Are the Benefits of Foam Rollers?

A foam roller is a cylinder tool made of compressed foam or a polymer blend. Some are soft while others are hard, but they’re all used for the same reason: to push muscles against a surface to alleviate muscle tension and soreness. “Foam rolling will help reduce pain and soreness, restore motion and lengthen muscles,” says Peloton instructor Hannah Corbin.

You can use a foam roller on many different parts of the body, including the back, chest and lower body. You know that tightness you can get in your calves? Hannah says that foam rolling can help by applying pressure to the tight muscles, assisting with relaxation. 

Devin Trachman, an orthopedic physical therapist at Physical Therapy Central in Oklahoma, says that another benefit of foam rolling is that it helps with flexibility and increases range of motion. She explains that it does this by increasing blood circulation. So if you’re finding it hard to touch your toes, foam rolling your legs can definitely help. 

Trachman says that foam rolling can help prevent injury too. This is because if your range of motion increases, you’re less likely to “pull” a muscle during exercise.

If your legs are already sore from working out, foam rolling them may help you recover faster. One scientific study showed that foam rolling after exercising can substantially help with delayed-onset muscle soreness and help alleviate pain. “Especially when you’re doing the same type of exercise regularly, like running, the muscles you use when you work out can get really tight. Foam rolling can help offset a lot of that tightness,” Trachman says.

Convinced you should be foam rolling your legs? Keep reading to see how to foam roll the different leg muscles safely and effectively. 

Foam Rolling Your Hamstrings

Dr. Trachman says that people who run or bike regularly are especially prone to getting tight hamstrings. She says that foam rolling before or after working out can help with faster recovery from long runs or rides.

1. To foam roll your hamstrings, start by putting the foam roller under your left hamstring. Put your hands on the floor a few inches behind you for balance. Bend your right knee slightly, keeping your right foot on the floor. 

2. Use pressure from your right leg and arms to slowly push the roam roller down your right hamstring. Your butt should be a few inches off the floor. Slowly roll the foam roller from below your butt to above your knees. After one minute, switch sides.

“I recommend isolating the hamstrings instead of trying to roll the whole leg at once,” Trachman says. This, she says, will give you more control and allow you to target each muscle more effectively. 

Once you’re done foam rolling your hamstrings, you’re ready to move on to your calves.

Woman foam rolls calf muscles

Vladimir Sukhachev/iStock/ Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Utilizing a Foam Roller On Your Calves

If lunges or jump roping is part of your workout routine, those exercises that can cause tight calves, which can cause muscle soreness. Dr. Trachman says that foam rolling your calves can help relieve calf muscle soreness from these types of exercise. Trachman says that foam rolling your calves is similar to foam rolling your hamstrings; you’re just moving the foam roller a little lower down your legs. 

1. To do it, start by putting the foam roller directly under your left calf. Put your hands on the floor a few inches behind you for balance. Bend your right knee slightly, keeping your right foot on the floor. 

2. Using your arms and right leg, move the foam roller slowly down the left calf, with your butt a few inches from the floor. Point the toes on your left leg outward to activate your left calf muscles. Continue foam rolling your left calf muscle for one minute before switching sides. 

Hannah Corbin demonstrates foam rolling the quad muscles

Using a Foam Roller On Your Quadriceps

Overusing the quad muscles can lead to muscle soreness in this area—this is especially relevant if you’re into weight lifting, running, or cycling. If that’s you, foam rolling your quads can feel really, really good.

1. To roam roll your quadriceps, get into a plank position, with your elbows on the floor. Place both legs on the foam roller, placing the foam roller a few inches below your hips.

2. Using your elbows for support, move the foam roller down both quadriceps, stopping above the knees. “You can move with a light touch by keeping your toes on the ground, or you can put more weight into the foam roller for more pressure. Whatever feels best for you,” Trachman says. Keep moving it up and down the quads for 60 seconds. 

When Should You Stretch Your Legs?

Since foam rolling is a form of recovery, you may be wondering if you can foam roll and stretch your legs at the same time. Trachman says that foam rolling can be integrated into a stretching routine, but certainly doesn’t have to be. In fact, she says there’s not really a bad time to foam roll; you’ll benefit from it whenever it fits into your schedule. She adds that a foam rolling session can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Target each muscle for one minute.

“I like to do some light foam rolling before a workout to mobilize and release those muscles, and then more targeted stretching afterwards to find the spots that were giving me issues during the workout,” Hannah says. She says that stretching and foam rolling is also her way of treating her body after a long day. “Get in a quick sweat, do 10 minutes of stretching, run an Epsom salt bath and foam roll after. It feels absolutely heavenly,” she says.

Trachman says that while foam rolling may hurt a little bit, it shouldn’t hurt so much that it’s making you wince. Feeling a little discomfort is okay but there should never be any unbearable or sharp pains. That type of pain is a sure sign to stop. 

While you may feel some discomfort while foam rolling, you should feel really good and be able to move easier after you're done. “It is important to remember that flexibility and mobility take time to build and work to maintain. Add this to your regular recovery routine,” Hannah says. 

There’s plenty of foam rolling exercises to try on the Peloton App. Trying them out is the perfect way to treat your body after a hard workout.

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