A few years back the only place you'd see a foam roller was in a physical therapist's office. Those now-ubiquitous oblong rollers have long been used to help patients and athletes recover from injury, providing myofascial release (intense massage to the fascia, or plastic-type tissue that surrounds muscle groups) to sore spots caused by repetitive stress or trauma. You can use a foam roller to work out kinks in your back, loosen your notoriously tight IT band (a muscle that runs from your hip to your knee), or soothe soreness post-workout. While trainers and physical therapists were once the source of intel on how and when to roll, they're becoming part of the fitness zeitgeist, with studios offering rolling classes and the rollers themselves popping up in fun colors everywhere from Jackrabbit to Target.
Another sure sign that foam rollers are a 'thing'? Models and actresses, Gwyneth Paltrow included, have hopped on the bandwagon, shelling out megabucks (a recent Vogue article reported that Paltrow pays $495 per session, twice a month) with alignment specialist Lauren Roxburgh to enhance performance and attain longer, leaner muscles. While we're not quite sure that spending that kind of money is exactly necessary, we do know that the effects of a foam roller, which are available in varying densities and lengths, can seriously make your body feel amazing. Akin to a massage, but far more accessible, specific foam roller techniques can target hotspots in the body to promote general wellness, correct specific problems, and relieve stiffness or pain by breaking up connective tissue. That achiness you feel in your shoulders after a long day at your desk? Laying on top of a foam roller lengthwise, positioned between your tailbone and your head, and rolling from side to side can alleviate the tension that builds up from sitting all day. You can roll away tight calves by placing a roller just under the knees, raising your hips off the ground by pushing up with your hands, and rolling the roller up and down along your calf muscles. Uniquely versatile and low-cost, a foam roller is kind of like having a personal massage therapist on hand all the time.
If you're curious about using a foam roller but aren't sure how to get started, there are classes that focus solely on using the prop to work the body. At Studio Maya in New York, a foam rolling stretch class teaches techniques that focus on all parts of the body to melt away stiffness and relieve tension. At Core Balance + Wellness in Atlanta, group classes instruct students in stretching and rolling out muscles and tendons in targeted spots on the body to break down scar tissue and loosen fascia. Looking to try it at home? Lauren Roxburgh put together an exclusive sequence for GOOP that you can find here.