Foam rolling. What is it? Why should you do it? And when should you do it?
When I was training for my first marathon in 2015, I didn’t own a foam roller. I had heard of them and my friends would tell me about them, but I had never used one myself. The fact that I had never used one or owned one came up one day during a training run and my friends looked at me like I had four heads. “What?!” They couldn’t believe I didn’t have one. Shortly after that conversation, my good friend, Noemi, gifted me one. It was such a silly gift but it meant the world to me. And so began my adventures with the foam roller.
Since receiving said foam roller, I’ve learned to incorporate it into my training routine as much as possible. During marathon training in 2016 I was diligent with my roller. 2017 has been a little touch and go but I’m improving.
So what is a foam roller, why should you use it, and how? Let’s find out.
Do You Foam Roll? Foam Rolling for Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
What is a foam roller?
A foam roller is, in the most general sense, a hard foam cylinder used for self-myofascial massage or release. Myofascial massage helps keep the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia in happy, working order and is particularly beneficial for runners when the mileage starts to get creep up as during marathon or ultra training. Having said that, a runner of any distance, along with other athletes, should use a foam roller as preventative work.
What are the benefits of foam rolling?
As I mentioned above, foam rolling is used to keep your soft tissues happy. Throughout training, it’s not uncommon for muscle imbalances, adhesions through the large working muscles used in running (quads, hamstrings, calves), and general soreness to develop. Self-myofascial release with a foam roller can help by increasing blood flow to the area in question, improving range of motion, correct muscle imbalances, and by ensuring muscles aren’t too tight and thereby affecting running form. Foam rolling is also great for rehabbing an injury for the same reasons.
How do I properly foam roll?
How to properly foam roll really depends on the muscles being targeted. First and foremost, never foam roll your spine. This is a big no-no and can result in injury. Avoid rolling on other bones, too. Foam rolling is to be used for muscles and soft tissues only.
When you foam roll, be sure to move slowly. Self-myofascial release works best when each spot is focused on for an amount of time, allowing the pressure of the foam roller and your bodyweight to target the area in question. If you roll over the same spot repeatedly too quickly, you’ll be missing the point of rolling.
Common places to foam roll:
- tensor fascia latae (TFL)
- plantar fascia
There are a lot of ways to foam roll and I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel here so instead of getting complicated and confusing anyone, I’m just going to show and explain some of the more common foam rolling techniques.
Sitting on your butt, place the foam roller under one calf at a time. Criss-cross your other leg on top to apply more pressure. Lift yourself up with your arms and slowly move the roller from behind the ankle to behind the knee. Take your time and switch legs once you feel ready.
To roll your hamstrings, get into the same position as for the calves but instead of starting at the ankle, you’ll start just above the back of the knee and work your way up to your glutes.
If you’re sitting in a chair and looking down at your quadriceps, the place I target is the spot between the IT band and the top of the quadriceps. Think 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock spot, right and left, respectively.
Lay on the foam roller with your quad situated such that your foot is turned inward and you’re resting on the foam roller on the 2 o’clock (for right leg) or 10 o’clock (for left leg). You can criss-cross your unused leg to apply more pressure. Start near the knee and slowly roll your way up the quad, ending at your hip.
Rolling the tensor fascia latae (or TFL for short), requires a smaller object such as a lacrosse ball. I’ve been known to use a soft baseball (not a softball as those are too big) and even a larger sized “golf ball” I borrowed from my kids’ golf sets! Hey, do what you can with what you have — right? 😉
To roll the TFL, you’ll first need to locate the TFL. It’s right next to the hip, above the IT band. It’s a pretty small muscle, all things considered, so using a lacrosse ball is ideal. Once you find it, you’ll want to put the lacrosse ball on it and lay down, belly facing the floor. Put your weight on it (yes, it may feel uncomfortable) and lay on it until you begin feeling some relief.
Rolling your feet to either relieve plantar fasciitis or as a preventative treatment is a wise choice. There are a few ways to do this. One is to freeze a water bottle and roll your foot over it. Another option is a hard golf ball (works wonders, I swear). And the third is to use a trigger point massage ball. I use this one and it has been amazing. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis, it’s best to do this right when you wake up and get out of bed, along with two more times throughout the day. With mild plantar fasciitis, rolling your foot along with diligent practicing of toes pose will help you get well on your way to recovery.
Those are some basic foam rolling exercises in a nutshell. The internet is a wonderful place to discover new foam rolling exercises. Chiropractors, physical therapists, and fellow runners are also really great resources to help you hone your foam rolling skills.
You may have noticed I left out one very important piece of the running puzzle. That, my friends, is the IT band. I don’t recommend rolling the IT band and neither does most of the running world. If you’re rolling on your IT band — stop! Read this article and you’ll understand why.
Ready to roll but have no equipment?
If you’re ready to start foam rolling but have no equipment, I’ve got great news. Amazon has everything you need! There are a lot of foam rollers on the market. The one I use is basic, firm, and gets the job done. Lacrosse balls are easy to find but if you want something simple, try this one. It’s easy to be frugal when it comes to myofascial release. You truly don’t need anything fancy — at least not to start. Find what looks sturdy and you’re good to go.
Do you have any foam rolling tips or tricks? Link up below in honor of National Foam Rolling Day on May 11th! And if you don’t have a foam rolling link to share but still want to participate in a linkup, join Debbie, Susie, Lora and me for the Running Coaches’ Corner linkup!
TALK TO ME!
Do you foam roll diligently?
Have you ever suffered plantar fasciitis?
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