Easy Foam Roller Moves For Tight Quads (with Pictures)


A foam roller is a great tool that can help you reduce muscle tension and stiffness from sore quads. Learn why it’s useful, how it can help your quads and how to use it properly.

In general, foam rollers are good for quads because they can reduce muscle soreness and helps to eliminate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after a workout. Regular use of foam rollers can also help to combat leg fatigue after a long day at work or long-distance traveling.

I’ve tried all types of foam rollers and on me and on my clients to help with tired legs and reclaim flexibility. In this article, I will pull up the curtain and help you understand why foam rollers are good.

How Do You Roll Your Quads With A Foam Roller?

Here I will show you the best foam roller exercises for thighs that can help you reduce that muscle stiffness and restore the optimal range of motion.

I won’t show you what I use for hamstrings because I have already written an article about it in detail “How to Use Foam Roller for Tight Hamstrings“, which I recommend you read. In short, for hamstrings, I use completely different tools.

1. Lay down on the floor

Start by placing the foam roller under your thigh. You can put a towel or a yoga mat on the floor. Make sure that the surface in the area is clear and even. Also, make sure you’re not in a way of anyone.

2. Shift your weight towards the side you will foam roll

You can do this by flexing your knee and externally rotating your hip. In the picture above you can see my client Chris has his right leg on the roller and his left leg is shifted to the side.

This will allow you to completely position your center of gravity on the side where you have a foam roller and get better pressure.

This position allows adding muscle movement to fully facilitate stretch into the restricted fascia and create a myofascial release. Myofascial release as a treatment is typically done with the patient actively moving the muscle through its range of motion in both eccentric and concentric phases, while the therapist applies pressure (source).

Abstract from sciencedirect.com

Rolling up and down on the quads isn’t enough to release tension and unglue fascia from the adhesions areas. You need to actively generate slow and gentle movements by flexing and extending your knee while being on the foam roller to fully unglue fascial adhesions.

As you can see in the picture above, Chris is moving his leg up and down. On the left side, his leg is in an extended position, wherein in the picture on the right, his knee is in a flexed position.

This allows for much better access to the trigger points and smoke out a lot of muscle tension.

3. Find a trigger point

Initially, it may feel painful when you foam roll your quads. Muscle stress and tension often lead to the formation of trigger points, sensitive bundles that are painful to palpation. Foam rolling your quads creates compression on the muscle and can elicit pain.

Trigger points are the sensitive spots of the muscle that feels tender to compression. Once you find a trigger point, stay on that spot. Initially, the muscle may feel stiff. But as you lay down, you should feel as the muscle is releasing its tension.

4. Stay on the spot until you’ve made the change

It can usually take between 1-2 minutes to make a change in one specific spot. How long you need to wait to release the tension will depend on how much tension you have, how supple your muscles are and how well you can tolerate the discomfort.

On average, you should spend around 2-5 minutes foam rolling your quads to fully facilitate myofascial release. Studies have shown that foam rolling less than 2 minutes is not enough to induce long-term improvements in the range of motion. (source)

The total duration will depend on how much tension you have and how sensitive you’re. So relying on general guidelines isn’t what you’re looking for.

5. Stop when you’ve made the change

I always tell my clients that they need to:

  • stay on the foam roller for as long as they make a change, or
  • stay on the foam roller until they stop making a change

You should stop foam rolling your legs after you felt the muscle tension release. The mechanical compression from the foam roller triggers a parasympathetic response that releases the tension in the muscle.

Once you feel you’ve made the change, or once you don’t feel you’re making any more progress, carry on and find another trigger point.

Continue until you feel your quadriceps are getting loosen up. Once you finish one leg, change the leg and repeat the process.

6. Add PNF contract-relax technique

Adding PNF contract-relax together with flexion and extension of the knee will help to desensitize tender areas in the quad and release the tension faster. Studies have shown that combining SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) techniques with PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) leads to significantly better results (source).

In fact, PNF contract-relax is a frequently used technique to relieve pain and to increase the range of motion of joints.

PNF contract-relax is simply tensing up the muscle while being on the foam roller. You can achieve that by peak contraction of your leg that lasts for 5 seconds followed by 10 complete relax.

Things To Keep In Mind

Why does it hurt to foam roll quads? Foam rollers can hurt your legs because muscle restriction often is caused by trigger points that are sensitive to compression. If you feel pain, this means there is a lot of sensitive areas that you need to take care of by regular foam rolling. People who are just getting started will typically have a lot of those areas.

I won’t be going into detail about why you have pain in your legs during foam rolling. I’ve already done an article about this called “Foam Rolling: Why it hurts & How to make it less painful“, which I suggest you should read.

All I can say is that I’ve noticed each time when I drop the ball and don’t use a foam roller for several days, I will feel it straight away.

Using A Foam Roller For Quads

Should you foam roll your quads? You should spend some time foam rolling your quads because they receive a lot of tension from everyday activities. Using a roller can release some of that tension by breaking the scar tissue and removing tissue restriction.

How often should I foam roll my quads? You can use a foam roller daily as a self-myofascial technique on your quads. Regular use of foam rollers leads to improved flexibility, muscle suppleness, and a better range of motion. Some people foam roll their legs twice a day to improve proprioception and muscle perfusion.

In the beginning, I’ve used a foam roller daily. However, after I got comfortable and released the muscle tension, I’ve only used it as a maintenance tool.

When is the best time to foam roll my thighs? The best time to use a foam roller for quads is either before a workout, immediately after a workout, or in the evening before bed. Using the foam roller before and after a workout helps to improve ROM, where foam rolling legs at night help to reduce stress.

What does foam rolling your quads feel like? Foam rolling feels similar to getting a deep tissue massage. People who have more muscle tension can feel more discomfort during foam rolling because tense areas are more sensitive. People who are more flexible and who are getting regular massages say foam rolling feels relaxing.

Does foam rolling help my quads? Foam rolling helps to release tension from the quads and improves the mobility of hips and knees. The modern lifestyle that involves excessive sitting for long hours leads to muscle stiffness, which can restrict the range of motion. By regularly foam rolling your quads, you can restore optimal joint mobility.

Benefits Of Foam Rolling Quads

In general, there are several benefits of regular foam rolling your thighs.

  • reduce muscle tension
  • speed up recovery
  • improve muscle perfusion
  • reduce soreness
  • improve range of motion
  • help the lymphatic system to decongest the area

As you can imagine, we are all busy working hard, taking care of our families and juggle multiple projects at once. So its easy not to pay close attention to our posture during the day.

Over time, the body starts to compensate into some inefficient, mechanically disorganized positions. Sitting is one of the most obvious examples. If you spend too much time behind the desk, it is very likely that you may start to notice:

  • Rounding upper back
  • Kink in the neck
  • Tension in the lower back
  • Tension in the hips
  • Tight calves and hamstrings

Some of those muscles can get brutally stiff which creates this compensation and puts the body out of alignment. The stiffness that you feel in the muscle is what causing discomfort during the compression from the foam roller.

How To Choose Best Foam Roller For Quads

The best foam roller for quads is the standard 6-inch diameter high-density foam roller that is commonly used in fitness centers and boutique gyms. It has a wide surface and strong finish that provides good stability and can cover large areas of the muscle.

I like this one because it can be used for people who are just getting started with foam rolling, as well as for people who are already experienced.

As you can see in the picture, the surface of this roller is wide enough that can cover a lot of muscle tissue. Which is good for people who have strong and big legs.

In fact, the surface of this foam roller is so wide that that people use it to roll both legs at the same time. However, as you’ve learned before, this isn’t how you create a myofascial release.

What is also cool about this roller is that it’s not wobbling around. As long as you stay on the flat floor, it will remain stable. I say that because there are some rollers out there with irregular shapes and sizes which makes it hard to stay stable.

What Is Good For Beginners?

The best foam roller for beginners is the regular foam roller. People who are just getting started with foam rolling typically have a lot of muscle restriction which creates pain during the compression. Using a soft and standard foam roller will minimize the pressure and reduce the feeling of discomfort.

A smooth foam roller is good for people who just getting started with foam rolling because a smooth surface doesn’t create a lot of pressure. The bumpy foam roller is good for people who are already comfortable with foam rolling and can handle more intense pressure.

SIze, Density, and Durability

Today you can find hundreds of different foam rollers. And even the ones that look similar always have some nuances that make them different.

One thing you need to pay attention to before getting a roller is density. You don’t want the roller to be soft like a pool noodle. This won’t make any change to your soft tissue.

You need a high-density foam roller because it creates more compression on the muscle tissue. Foam rollers that are soft and squishy initially may feel appropriate, but in the long-term, they won’t give you enough pressure to make significant changes.

Take a look at the picture below.

Comparison of three standard foam rollers
  • On the left side, you see a foam roller that is filled up with “foam”. What I find is that those types of foam rollers typically have the lowest density.

This type of foam roller is very light, soft, and great for things like a pilates class to challenge the position that engages your core muscles. But to use it as a self-myofascial release instrument is not enough.

  • On the far right, you have a foam roller that looks kind of like styrofoam. Those types of form rollers have slightly more density, but they do not last for a long time. In my gym, those types of foam rollers usually didn’t last too long because they get squished as more and more people use them.

They also make a mess because the styrofoam cracks and leaves the little pieces all over the place. Those two won’t satisfy your needs.

What I don’t like about the soft rollers is that you can hardly feel anything. And even if you do, after the first couple of weeks body will adapt and you won’t feel like you’re making a progress anymore.

The best option is the one in the middle.

High density foam roller

As you can see, this one is made of hard-density plastic with a rubber finish. It is only slightly heavier than the rest, but the density and durability are extreme.

A good foam roller that is made of high-density plastic should last you for a lifetime. Those type of foam rollers doesn’t bend, crack or break under pressure. They are also resistant to sweat and don’t absorb any moisture.

Foam roller size does matter because foam rollers with a smaller diameter can create more pressure on the soft tissue surface. Foam rollers with larger diameters spread the whole pressure across the whole area.

Rolling Quads With Medicine Ball

Here I wanna show you another alternative tool you can use for your quads, especially if you don’t have quick access to a foam roller. These days most of the gyms have a bunch but sometimes when you travel and all you have is hotel gym access, you need to use what is available.

Medicine Ball For Quads

In general, you can use a medicine ball to roll your quads. The medicine ball is round so your whole body weight will be pressing against the small point or “apex” of the ball. This makes a huge difference because you can get deeper into those hidden trigger points.

I like to use the medicine ball for quads and glutes. They create a more precise and local pressure point on the tissue.

To understand the difference try a little experiment.

  • Take your thumb and pin it into your quads using moderate pressure.
  • Now do the same, but instead of the thumb use your whole hand or make a fist.

You should notice straight away that the thumb gets deeper into the tissue. It almost feels like a pin or someone’s elbow digging into the quads.

I also like medicine ball because it allows me to move around. I can freely change the position. The one thing you need to be aware of is it requires to have some level of core stability.

As you remember, the standard foam roller has a flat surface. With a medicine ball, you need to spread your hands and legs to find balance as the ball likes to roll around.

That means it will work for people who are already semi-familiar with foam rolling.

In fact, if you’re already comfortable on the standard roller then using a medicine ball for your quads and glutes will feel more challenging. I always find some sensitive spots on the medicine ball that I couldn’t reach from the roller.

Conclusion

Using the foam roller for your quads is one of the best things you can do to restore range of motion. Remember to add some flexion and extension of the knee to really dig into those hidden corners and smoke out the trigger points.

Try to choose the hard durable foam roller because it will last you longer and serve you and your family for years to come. If you’re out and about try to use any type of ball as an alternative.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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