Have you ever used a foam roller? Do you even know what a foam roller is? A foam roller is, what a lot of fitness professionals refer to as, “the poor man’s massage.” Foam rolling is ideal for runners because it simulates a deep tissue massage by working out the tension in your hard working muscles and providing a release for the outer sack of your muscles, also known as the fascia; hence the technical name for foam rolling: self-myofascial release (or SMR).
Like a deep tissue massage, foam rolling is not always the most relaxing activity. Especially if you have never foam rolled before, or haven’t done so in a while, you might experience a painful sensation in order to get those muscles to release—don’t worry, it becomes easier and less painful over time.
“As a runner, I am very familiar with tight calves and quads, and the aches and pains that can occur in the hips and knees.” says Runtastic fitness coach Lunden Souza. “But, in using a foam roller you can reduce aches and pains, decrease muscle soreness, prevent injury and give your muscles the desired release before and after you go for a run.” Here are her tips for runners who want to start foam rolling.
How To Foam Roll
When foam rolling a particular muscle, you want to initially roll over the muscle area approximately 1 inch per second. It’s important to note that this may not be possible when you are first starting out. Rolling over the muscle at such a slow pace is done to identify the areas of the muscle that are most tender and sensitive. To those areas (choose 2-3 per muscle), you can apply pressure for 20-30 seconds to ensure proper release. Make sure you hold that pressure for the entire duration or it will not be effective. You don’t have to put pressure directly on the sore or tender area, near the area will also do.
Foam rollers come in many lengths and widths. The smaller the width, the more pressure the foam roller is able to put on a particular area. The longer the foam roller, the more variety of areas you will have access to. But in my experience, the shorter ones fit easier into a gym bag, a locker or a suitcase when traveling. So, if you need something compact then go for a shorter one. However, to start out I would recommend one that is 15 x 45cm.
What areas should a runner focus on?
Calves You can do both together if your calves are very sensitive, or completely avoid lifting your body off of the ground (for some, just setting their calves on a foam roller is enough pressure). Progress to one at a time for a deeper release. Turn the foot (the side of the calf you are foam rolling) side to side to target the inner and outer sides of the calf muscle (gastrocnemius and soleus).
IT-Band In my experience as a trainer, this is usually the most painful area to foam roll for the majority of my clients. This particular area you may not be able to roll very far. Don’t be discouraged, you will progress faster than you think.
Quads You can do both together if your quads are very sensitive. Progress to one at a time for a deeper release. Progress even further by bending the knee of the leg you’re foam rolling.
Piriformis Make sure the foam roller is only on one side. Cross the same foot as side you are foam rolling over the opposite knee. Roll from the low back, all the way over the glute until it meets the hamstring. You will find the piriformis in the middle of the glute muscle as you are rolling over it, this is usually the most tender area as well.
Want to see how it’s done? Check out this video for proper foam rolling form.