5 Foam Rolling Tips for Runners

5 Foam Rolling Tips for Runners

EV Sports | Injury Prevention for Runners

Me: “Do you foam roll?”
Client: *Pause* “Erm, probably not as much as I should…”

The pause answers my question before any words are uttered!

Let’s try a different one:
Me: “Do you have a foam roller?”
Client: *Pause* “We’ve got one somewhere…”

I see a pattern emerging here!

Why should you be foam rolling?

Foam rolling has lots of benefits, which are generally similar to some massage benefits, plus foam rolling is cheaper and can be done more regularly. That doesn’t mean it replaces sports massage, more prolongs the benefits of a sports massage.

To name a few, foam rolling can help

  • aid your warm up and cool down
  • identify niggles before they present and become injuries
  • alleviate muscle tightness
  • improve posture
  • address muscular imbalances

5 Foam Rolling Tips for Runners

1. Get an appropriate roller

Foam Rollers - EV Sports | Injury Prevention for Runners

One of the most common reasons that people do not foam is because it hurts. Although this is a clear indication that you need to foam roll more regularly, if it is painful, then you probably need to use a softer foam roller.

As a new or returning person to foam rolling, I would always recommend you choose an actual foam roller, as opposed to a trigger point one. In addition to this, choosing one that is 10cm in diameter is easier to use initially than the more common 15cm ones. Either length (90cm or 45cm) will be fine, although the shorter ones don’t get in the way as much!

2. Foam roll your quads first

I say this for a few reasons:

  • Quads are pretty much ALWAYS tighter in runners than they think they are, so need to be addressed more frequently
  • Because they are tighter, they generally hurt more, which is when most people stop rolling. However, if this is the first place you roll, you’re more likely to continue, if only for a little bit longer than you would otherwise
  • Runners are generally lacking in time (although they find time to run more…😉), which makes them skip important steps in their recovery (such as foam rolling). If you start with your quads then you know you will always target the worst area each time, rather than leaving it until last (because it hurts) and thinking it doesn’t matter when you’ve run out of time. 

3. Foam roll regularly

You can safely foam roll every day, time and comfort permitting.

If you are new or returning to foam rolling, start by foam rolling one muscle group a day, for example: Quads on one day, hamstrings the next, calves and feet the next, glutes and hip flexors the next, etc. This will mean you foam roll each muscle group at least once a week.

Once you are used to this and your muscles are responding well, i.e. not as uncomfortable during the rolling, you can do all muscle groups together and spend more time on those that you feel need it (in addition to the quads!).

4. Follow foam rolling with relevant stretches

Although foam rolling helps to lengthen your muscles to a degree, it also releases tension through the pressure of the exercise, especially if you do some form of trigger point therapy with the roller or ball. 

This pressure will help to break down knots and adhesions in the soft tissues and stretching afterwards will help to realign the muscle fibres. This is particularly important if you are using foam rolling as part of your cool down.

After you have foam rolled each muscle group, follow this with a stretch on the same muscle, holding for 10-15 seconds on each side.

5. Pay attention to what you’re feeling

If you regularly foam roll then you will get to know what your muscles usually feel like and this will help you identify when rolling and stretching isn’t being as effective at addressing any niggles or tightness.

At this stage, you can try a firmer roller and/or use some tennis or therapy balls to more specifically target an area.

If this doesn’t work, and especially if it worsens, get it checked out before it becomes an injury and forces you to stop.

(Optional) Combine foam rolling with regular sports massage

Some people do very well with limited therapy sessions, especially if they have a sensible approach to training, racing and recovery. So, despite sports massage being my job and me fully supporting the benefits, it’s not something I would say you HAVE to do.

However, if you can afford the treatment and the time, a monthly or 6 weekly maintenance massage will most definitely complement (or kick start) your foam rolling routine, then in turn your recovery and ultimately your performance.

How should you foam roll?

There are plenty of well executed videos of foam rolling on YouTube, so I’m not even going to bother trying to recreate any of my own (being in front of the camera is really not my strong point!).

Out of the ones I have seen, I think Howcast.com provide a great variety of exercises and simple to follow instructions. They do use the Trigger Point roller, but the technique is the same with an actual foam one too.

For ease, I have included the most common ones for runners:

Quads
Glutes
Hip Flexors
Hamstrings
Calves
Plantar Fascia (feet)

Conclusion

Foam rolling should not be painful – if it is then use a softer foam roller, or book a sports massage to help loosen your muscles up.

Specific or tailored advice will differ depending on your overall health and fitness, your experience with running and whether you are currently experiencing any niggles.

One or two sessions to understand what you need to work on, can help make you a better runner for life.