How to Effectively Release Tight Muscles

Learn how to release those tight spots in your muscles

Credit: Curb Ivanic

Foam rolling on muscle knots is an effective way to release them

Tight muscles can be a hindrance to a healthy, active lifestyle

And we’re prone to getting more tight muscles as we get older, so finding an effective way to release that tightness can help keep you limber and active for a lifetime.

Many people think stretching is a good treatment for tight muscles, but that’s not always the case. In fact, there isn’t much scientific evidence that static stretching (the type of stretching most people are familiar with) actually does anything.

There are better options for relieving tense muscles.

Roll Out Your Muscle Tightness

Grid Foam RollerA really good way to free up restricted muscles is to do what’s called self-myofascial release. It’s also referred to as trigger point therapy as well as self massage.

You can do it at home with a foam roller or small balls. I prefer the Grid foam roller by Trigger Point Performance Therapy (pictured on the left) though a regular, longer foam roller will do (like the one I’m using in the demonstration photos).

(See Resources below for information on where to buy these).

You’ll use the roller and rubber balls to roll the tight spots in your muscles. This will release the tension and allow for a better range of motion in that tissue. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Position the appropriate muscle on the roller or ball and find any tight and/or tender areas.
  • Once found, hold on that spot until the tenderness is decreased by 75%. If the pain gets worse while you’re holding a spot, stop.
  • Then move on to another tender spot. 
  • Breathe deeply and slowly to help your body relaxed; rapid, shallow breathing will prevent your body from being able to release tension. 
  • Make sure you roll and move slowly; do not roll quickly over a muscle, as this will have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve.
  • It should take about 30 – 60 seconds for each muscle, though larger muscle may take up to 90 seconds.
  • If you have a lot of tender/tight spots, it will take longer. Relax and take your time.

How to Use the Roller

Here’s how to use the roller on common tight spots.

foam rolling calves


Place foam roll under mid belly of lower leg. Cross one leg over the other leg to increase pressure (optional). Slowly roll calf area to find any tender spots.

Do this with foot pointing up, then with the foot turned out and turned in. This will target the middle, outer and inner part of the calves.

foam rolling quads


Lie face down with both your thighs on the roller. Brace your abs and tighten your glutes.

Start from a few inches below your hips and slowly roll to a couple of inches above your knee, stopping on any tender spots.

foam rolling glutes


Begin positioned as shown with one leg crossed over opposite knee.

Slowly roll over your hips/glutes, stopping on any tender spots.

foam rolling illiotibial band

Outer Thigh (IT Band)

Lie on the roller on your side just below your hips. Do not lie directly on the hip joint. Support yourself on your elbow and the foot of the top leg as pictured.

Roll from your hip down the outside of your thigh to a few inches above the knee.

foam rolling mid-back


For this area it’s best to use a small ball to get into the small areas all around your shoulder blades and your mid-back.

Place the ball on a wall and lean on the ball with it positioned in your mid-back region between your spine and your shoulder blade.

Roll along the muscles in this area including the region along the edge of your shoulder blade. Do not roll on the bone itself.


You can buy the Grid foam roller online, but to save shipping and customs charges go to Active Orthopaedic in Kitsilano.

Regular foam rollers you can buy at Fitness Town locations.

Go to a dollar store to get a small rubber ball or you can also use a tennis ball.