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Dr. Cathy A. Kim, MD, APC

Functional Foam Rolling | Ep. 5

Sporty Woman Massaging Her Legs with Foam Roller

Functional Foam Rolling | Ep. 5

Our muscles and fascia are so adaptable that they function like a close knit team, working together to compensate for each region depending on the movement — reaching, bending and twisting, etc.  Foam rolling applies localized pressure to break down the densest areas of our soft tissue and restore lost flexibility.    

As a Functional Medicine doctor, I identify the habitual movement patterns that are the root cause of these myofascial densifications and teach patients more efficient mechanics to escape their historical cycles of recurrence and relapse. 

Watch the video to learn about my functional foam rolling technique that mimics typical leg movements to increase effectiveness over standard foam rolling.


Hi I’m Dr. Cathy Kim and this is Integrative Body Medicine Concepts.

Today we’re going to focus on functional foam rolling. Before we get started, we need to go over a few things so that everyone is safe before we get started. So the first thing is that if you have a shoulder issue, or severe pain, then foam rolling is probably not for you. You should see a professional like a myofascial massage specialist, because it does require a certain amount of strength and flexibility to do this.

The other thing to go over is equipment.  For beginners I like to try starting with this foam roller that has a texture that looks more like a swimming pool noodle. It has some give when you push on it.  Even if you think this is too soft for you, you will be surprised because it will feel really firm. The ones that you see everywhere have this kind of spotted look, like a styrofoam cup and these are a lot firmer and this is hard for a beginner to start with. 

The other thing to note is that when you are foam rolling, it helps if you activate your root lock, your mula bandha or do the Kegel as I reviewed in video 2. It’s similar to the kind of resistance you want to give yourself to help you have something to keep your pelvis stable. I suggest to people to think of it as like if you’re trying to help someone off the floor, and you want to pick them up but they stay limp, you can’t pick them off the floor very well. They need to firm up their hand and forearm and legs, and then you can help them up. So that’s what you provide your body when you do this pelvic stabilization. So those are the big things that I wanted you to understand before we get started. 

So let’s pretend that I “Kegeled” all the way to come down to kneel on the floor. The places that I’m going to foam roll, or I recommend foam rolling for your thigh is the outside, the front and the inside. For demonstration purposes, I’m going to do the outside of my right thigh, my IT band, facing you in the camera, and then I’m going to switch to the front of my left thigh and the inside of my left thigh. Because that’s easier for you to see. But for you, you’re gonna with one side, one leg, and then switch over to the other one. 

I’m gonna roll from the level of my groin down and that’s pretty standard. You can get fancier later when you’re much better at it, but this is a good place to start. So I lay down and try to aim for the middle of my thigh, because that’s the best/most stable place to lay first. 

So I Kegel all the way down and we start from head to toe, looking at where we are so we are set up well. So I think about my shoulder, and it’s not in my ear, and it’s going to be down, kind of away. I put my elbow directly under my shoulder, like a table leg and not in front and not too far behind and as best as I can I try to keep this open. 

In the beginning a lot of people do it like this, but hopefully if you open up your chest, this will get easier. And then you’re aiming right here, with the foam roller starting in your mid thigh. When you’re advanced you can do both legs stacked like this, and you can get there, certainly faster than you think. But in the beginning you are going to want to do it with one leg like this and then that way you can lift up if the pain is too great.  And it will also help you move a little bit, so this is the way you should start. 

I also recommend that you flex your foot at the end, because if you just let it hang like this and drag, this makes your whole leg limp and then it hurts, but you’re not gonna get much change going on in your tissue. So you want to flex your foot and then, as I talk about moving it, I have people move their leg slowly with resistance as if you’re moving through peanut butter. 

Okay, so now let’s get started. So I’m gonna set up like this, I’m not sagging like this, so I’m up like this and I Kegel right here and then I’m gonna roll a little bit all the way to this bony part of my leg, which is equivalent to about the level of my groin. And then we go all the way down to my knee, and then I come all the way back and I wiggle this, my elbow to get myself to move. 

Try not to shoot really fast, when you shoot really fast like this, you spend so much momentum going in this direction that you don’t get much pressure on your leg. So wherever it hurts after you get through doing that a couple times, to soften everything, find a spot that really hurts. And then in that spot, you are going to bend and straighten. And this is mimicking your movement when you’re on the stairs, or standing or sitting down at a chair, and then you’ll realize that that part of you is not moving at all. So we’re trying to open this up so more of your tissue will participate in your body moving. 

Okay, so let’s say I finish that part, which I recommend a minimum of like three to five passes. You don’t have to go crazy, because you want your body to be changing little by little. So I’m going to Kegel and rotate over and I’m going to switch legs. So I’m going to switch to my left leg.  And I do the same thing where I’m going to set up with my shoulders and put my elbows under here and I’m going to push up like this — so this is strong up here and then I’m going to Kegel right here and not try not to sag right here. For myself I’m very flexible and this part of my back so my challenge is always not to let myself sink like this, I got to keep everything straight. So if you see me sag a little in the back that’s just because that’s my issue. So we’re always works in progress. So I’m gonna lift up right here and then I’m going to do what I did before and then I’m gonna come up here and I’m gonna go wherever that it hurts a little bit and then I’m gonna bend and straighten. I can even go to the edge of a muscle. I can go to the edge of it this way and find where it hurts and this way you’re imitating your movement in real life. 

After I do that then I’m gonna do the inside of my leg:  this one you move the roller 45 degrees, you know, so from where it was and then you lay on it kind of like a frog leg. When I move, instead of moving up and down the mat, I’m gonna go diagonally across the mat and the same line as my top. And then I go all the way to my groin, I set up the same as before I try to keep myself lifted all through here. And then I’m gonna go like this and wherever it hurts then you’re gonna bend and straighten with flex. 

You could hear that I’m getting out of breath because it is a full body workout to be able to sustain holding yourself up and doing all these movements. Alright so now when I’m done with that, then I Kegel and I push back up and then I’m ready to do the other side. 
So, I hope you got a lot out of this video.  If you’re interested in learning more please stay tuned or subscribe to my videos and go to my website integrativebodymedicine.com (drcathykim.com) to learn more about my approach to whole body health.

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Dr. Cathy Kim

Dr. Cathy Kim is a Board-Certified Family Medicine physician and Body Function Specialist. She practices in Camarillo, CA and specializes in complex cases.

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