The foam roller has become an essential piece of equipment and excellent massage tool for runners. Using your own body weight and a foam roller, you can perform a self-massage that offers similar benefits as deep-tissue massage such as stretching muscles and tendons, decreasing muscle tension, soothing tight fascia, breaking up trigger points, and increasing blood flow and circulation to soft tissues.
If you don’t have the time or money for regular, professional massages, foam rollers are a convenient, less expensive alternative. They’re especially helpful for long distance runners who are prone to ITB syndrome and tight calves, quads, or hamstrings. I always feel more relaxed and loose after I do a post-run foam rolling session.
If you’re new to foam rolling, I have to warn you – it can be uncomfortable, especially if you have some knots (adhesions or trigger points) along the muscle. Before you get started, review these tips, so you make sure you’re doing it correctly:
Foam Rolling Tips
You should limit your foam rolling to no more than 15 minutes. You’re not going to get rid of every knot in a single session. It’s better to work in short sessions of foam rolling after you exercise several times a week.
Try to roll about 3 to 6 inches at a time, using slow and controlled strokes. Spend about 30-60 seconds on one area and then move on to the next.
Although it’s normal to feel some discomfort and soreness when you’re foam rolling, make sure you don’t roll to the point of unbearable pain. If it’s too painful, just move on to a different section. If you experience bruising, you’re doing it too hard. You may need to start with a softer foam roller (less dense) if you can’t do it without intense pain.
Don’t expect to see results overnight when you first start rolling. But after few days of consistent rolling, you’ll notice that you’re not as tight as before.
Many gyms have foam rollers, so you can use one there and ask a trainer to give you a quick demo. If you’re interested in buying your own foam roller for doing it at home, I highly recommend the Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller – Buy from Amazon.com.
After you’ve finished rolling, make sure you stretch the massaged area right away to take advantage of the increased circulation.
How to Foam Roll Your Calf Muscles
Many runners suffer from tight calf muscles. Here’s how to self-massage your calves using a foam roller:1. Start by lying on your back, with your legs extended. Place the foam roller under your calf muscles.
2. Now, engage your core, lift your body, and load your weight onto your arms.
3. Roll in a gradual, slow motion back from your knee joint down to your ankle and continue back and forth like that for a few passes. You may feel more tenderness in certain areas, and you can adjust the amount of tension by using your arms and core to ease pressure off. If you’re brand-new to foam rolling, and you have a lot of knots, you may find that you need very little pressure to feel it working.
4. Be sure to maintain steady breathing as you’re rolling. If you come across a tight spot, pause and linger on the roller. Applying direct pressure like that will help break up the knot. But be careful not to overdo it. You should only hold it in one spot for no more than a minute. You can continue to do a few more short rolls over that section to try to release the knot.
5. Perform calf stretches after you finish.
How to Roll Your Quadriceps Muscles
Your quadriceps (front thigh muscle) is another area where runners experience tightness. Follow these steps to roll out your quads:
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1. Lay down on your front and place the foam roller under your right thigh. Position your left leg splayed out, away from the roller.
2. Using your arms and right foot, roll yourself over the roller, up and down the front of your thigh.
3. Continue to roll the area from your hip flexor down toward your knee. Don’t roll directly over your knee joint.
4. Once you’ve finished your right quad, do the same thing on your left quad.
5. Stretch your quad muscles after you finish.
More Stretching and Flexibility Exercises
If you want more stretching, see how to foam roll your IT band, and these essential stretches for runners. You can also help your hips with these yoga moves for runners with tight hips. But if your problems are hampering you, check when you should see a doctor for a running injury.