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How To Foam Roll The Upper Back

Proper Technique To Target A Tight Upper Back

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

how to foam roll upper back

Get ready for some cracks and “ohhhh”s because that’s what will happen when you foam roll the upper back!

It’s my personal favorite area to foam roll because not only does it feel great, but there are numerous benefits.

Today you’ll learn how to use a foam roller for the upper back, when and why an upper back foam roll should be done, the anatomy of the muscles you’ll be rolling out, and frequently asked questions I get from my clients.

How To Use A Foam Roller For The Upper Back

The upper back foam roll is one of the simplest to learn.  Here’s how to perform the movement correctly:

  • Have the foam roller perpendicular to your body and resting across your mid back.  This isn’t a lower back exercise so you’re not going to want to go any lower than this point.
  • Keeping your knees bent and your feet planted, lift your hips off the ground so only your feet and the foam roller are touching the floor.
  • Wrap your arms around your shoulders as if you were giving yourself a big hug.  This will open up your shoulders and allow you to target all the muscles in your upper back.
  • Now that you’re in the proper position, begin rolling out until the foam roller reaches the area just below the bottom of your neck.
  • Once you reach that point, roll back the other direction to your mid back to complete one rep.

How Long You Should Foam Roll The Upper Back

A solid 45 - 60 seconds of upper back foam rolling will be a great start.  If your back is really tight and you want to spend extra time in a certain area, that’s totally fine.

Not only can you add time but you can also do the 45 - 60 second foam roll multiple times per day.

Why An Upper Back Foam Roll Can Benefit You

A common theme I’ve noticed from years of training clients in person and online is rounded shoulders that come from excessive time sitting and working on a computer.

Spending 8 - 12 hours per day hunched over working is going to create tightness in your upper back as your shoulders begin to round forward.

Have you ever seen anyone sitting up with perfect posture for 8 straight hours?

Yeah me either.

That’s why the upper back foam roll is so critical to feeling your best.  Targeting that area that is overworked is going to help relieve tightness in your upper back, shoulders, and even your neck.

Another benefit to foam rolling your upper back is that it can help loosen up your muscles before a workout.  Spending that 45 - 60 seconds before an upper body workout can prime the muscles and leave you feeling great.

How To Foam Roll Upper Back

The Anatomy Of The Back

The upper back is made up of many muscles including the:

  • Trapezius
  • Teres Major & Minor
  • Rhomboids
  • Latissimus Dorsi

When you give yourself a hug and roll out your upper back, you’ll also be targeting your rear deltoids.

During your upper back foam rolling, the main muscles you’ll be hitting are the first three listed above, the traps, teres muscles, and rhomboids.  You’ll target some of your lats, but I have a separate article that really dives deep on how to roll them out.

Check out How To Foam Roll Your Lats and pair that exercise with the one you learn here to target all the muscles in your upper back.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Is The Best Time Foam Roll My Upper Back?

You can foam roll the upper back whenever you would like but I’ve found the best times are:

  • Before an upper body workout.
  • First thing in the morning.
  • Throughout the day if you sit for work.

If you sit throughout the day and notice you round your shoulders constantly, I recommend setting a timer every 1 - 2 hours and when the timer goes off, jump on the ground and foam roll a few areas of your body.

It will give you a nice reset from your job, it feels good, and it will help you come back to your work more energized.

Can A Foam Roller Hurt Your Back?

If you have any preexisting upper back or spine pain or injuries, I would recommend you consult with your doctor before you foam roll your upper back.

For 90% of my clients, they use the foam roller pain free and love it as a warm up for their workout.

That 10% that hasn’t been able to it is from people that have had disk issues where the pressure of the foam roller is too much on their back.

How Do I Foam Roll The Lower Back?

Targeting the lower back muscles is going to require a different angle with the foam roller so you don’t directly roll on the spine.

I’ve broken it down in this article How To Foam Roll The Lower Back.

Is A Crack While Foam Rolling The Upper Back Safe?

If you foam roll your upper back and you notice cracking, there is nothing to be concerned about.  As long as it isn’t accompanied by any pain, you’ll be safe to continue doing it.

In terms of cracking, there have been studies like this one that shows there were no signs of osteoarthritis in those that crack versus those who don’t crack their knuckles.

Obviously the knuckles aren’t on your upper back but the same principles apply.

How To Foam Roll The Upper Back Recap

Foam rolling your upper back might become your new favorite area to roll on your body.  It feels great and can help relieve tightness and pain that you might be experiencing from exercise or excessive sitting.

Make sure to only roll out to the middle of your back and if you experience any pain, go see your doctor.

Pair this movement with other foam rolling back exercises for optimal results.