When I first heard about foam rolling for runners, I didn’t really know what to make of it.

To be honest, I figured it was probably just another popular recovery gimmick that you often see in the health and fitness community.

Yeah, I was wrong.

Really wrong!

When I started incorporating regular foam rolling techniques into my weekly recovery regimen, my runs just felt “better”.

On top of that, and most importantly, I’ve avoided any injuries since.

Now, there is a right way and a wrong way to using a foam roller.

Which is why I created this article!

I don’t want you doing ridiculous things that you think are proper foam rolling techniques but are really just you looking ridiculous rolling all over your living room.

In other words, let’s not look as stupid as I did, mmkay? 😉

In this article, we’ll cover common questions about foam rolling for runners, the best exercises to incorporate into your routine, and the top mistakes you should avoid.

So, let’s get to the most important questions…

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    What Is Foam Rolling Exactly?

    Foam rolling can be simply described as a form of self-massage meant to release muscle tension and promote post-workout recovery.

    The process is meant to target specific sore muscle areas (also known as “trigger points”) to better speed up the healing process.

    Foam rollers are most often cylindrical devices that come in different sizes, densities, and textures.

    Why Is Foam Rolling Important For Runners?

    Since foam rolling most often contributes toward leg muscle recovery, they’ve become an essential means of post-run recovery.

    They increase flexibility and blood flow in targeted muscle areas of the body, which helps us return the muscles back to their normal function after our runs.

    Also, those trigger points are often caused by muscles sticking together, creating what we feel as “knots”.

    By massaging these areas with a foam roller we can break up these muscles to allow them to recover properly.

    In one study, it was even concluded that foam rolling reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)…which is awesome! (1)

    Basically, a foam roller acts as your own personal sports massage therapist when done properly.

    The Best Foam Rollers For Runners

    This roller is high quality and has ridges and grooves in all the right places.

    You can roll on different sections of this foam roller based on the intensity of the massage you desire.

    It’s also super durable and lightweight.

    You could consider this purchase an investment as they have been known to be super long-lasting.

    This roller has been constructed to mimic the thumb-like pressure from a massage therapist.

    This allows for a deeper and more targeted massage.

    It also has an antimicrobial surface, to prevent the growth of bacteria (which is always a plus in my book).

    Just keep in mind that this roam roller is more rigid, so consider if that would be something you’d want!

    When I first heard of this foam roller, my mind was blown!

    While you’ll pay a tad extra for this foam roller, it’s ridiculously useful.

    It’s designed to collapse to a flat-shape which makes it perfect for traveling.

    You can bring it with you on a plane, to the gym, or even to your race!

    It’s also noted to be on the softer side, which makes it beginner friendly.

    Checks all the boxes for a quality foam roller, but for the most budget-friendly price.

    While it’s more basic than the previous options, it will do the job just fine at a fraction of the cost.

    When searching for the perfect foam roller my advice would be to invest appropriately.

    I personally purchased a cheaper option, before I quickly moved to a higher-quality option.

    So, if it’s something you see yourself committing to long-term, perhaps shoot for something a little more durable right off the bat.

    Also, make sure you’re keeping in mind the size and the density of the roller!

    This normally comes down to personal preference, so makes sure you’re picking the option best for you.

    How Often Should I Use My Foam Roller?

    Most sources will tell you to use it every day.

    I would suggest just making it a regular practice to incorporate some foam rolling exercises into your post-run routine.

    See it as a way to relax and unwind!

    Not to mention it relieves tightness and increases blood flow so you’re properly recovered post-run.

    It also should be noted that the more you use your foam roller, the less painful it will be when you’re rolling your muscles.

    But if every day seems a little daunting, I would shoot for at least 3-4 days per week.

    Should I Foam Roll Before Or After A Workout?

    As mentioned, foam rolling is crucial post-run due to the recovery benefits it provides.

    What’s often overlooked, is how beneficial foam rolling can be pre-run!

    Like your warm-up routine, which is intended to loosen up your muscles pre-run, foam rolling can have the same benefits!

    It can also release extra tension you may be carrying, setting you up to have a more enjoyable run in general.

    In one small study, it was found that after foam rolling it took less effort for the muscles to efficiently move. (2)

    So, the point is, the more you can incorporate foam rolling into your pre-run routine – the better!

    Foam Rolling Exercises

    Back

    Why It’s Important

    Dealing with a sore back can greatly influence your running posture.

    Which can have severely negative effects over time. 

    We need to make releasing our back tension a priority in our recovery routines.

    The Exercise

    Since our back area tends to be sensitive, it’s important we do this exercise slowly.

    For your upper back, position the foam roller horizontally under your upper back. Then cross your hands over your shoulders and roll to the upper middle of the back while keeping your hips off the ground.

    For mid to lower back, position the foam roller vertically so the bottom is touching your glutes. From this position, you can nearly hit your upper and lower back.

    Calves

    Why It’s Important

    We put a ton of strain on our calves during running.

    By foam rolling our calves routinely we can increase mobility, reduce tightness and prevent injury long-term.

    The Exercise

    With your hands directly under your shoulders, lift your butt up and place the foam roller under your calves.

    If you turn your toes inwards and outwards you can hit different areas of your calves.

    Hamstrings

    Why It’s Important

    You can acquire a ton of tension in your hamstrings if they aren’t recovered properly.

    This can lead to lower back pain and tears in the muscle.

    Foam rolling your hamstrings is useful for increasing blood flow and working out the knots in this area.

    The Exercise

    This one requires a little balance! 🙂

    Similar to how we worked the calves, you’re going to start with your hands directly under your shoulders.

    Then lift your butt up and place the foam roller under the back of your knee.

    From here you can roll all the way up, then back down toward the knee.

    IT Band / Outer Thigh

    Why It’s Important

    Foam rolling your IT band has been debated in the fitness community and it’s important I explain why.

    This is mainly because your IT Band isn’t a muscle, it’s a tendon.

    So any pain you feel from the foam roller might be a sign of something more troubling.

    However, this can be avoided by ensuring two things:

    First, that you’re listening to your body and not pushing through a foam rolling session when you feel discomfort.

    Second, that you’re properly rolling your IT band (as in the example below).

    Just play it safe with this one, and be mindful of how your body feels and responds to it!  

    The Exercise

    First, you’re going to cross one leg over and keep it bent.

    Straighten the opposite leg and place the foam roller underneath your knee.

    You’re going to then twist and roll on the side or your leg, moving back and forth between your mid-thigh and knee.

    This one might take a little practice!

    Don’t get discouraged if it seems difficult at first. 

    Quads

    Why It’s Important

    It’s no question that our quads need some serious TLC after a lot of running.

    Our quads are actually known to experience more tightness and soreness after a run, so it’s crucial we’re promoting blood flow to that area.

    Plus, I think this exercise feels ah-mazing — once you get the hang of it. 

    The Exercise

    After getting on all fours, place the foam roller above the knees.

    Straighten your arms so they’re under your elbows, and move the roller back and forth along your quads.

    You can vary up this exercise by leaning towards one leg or the another, further putting pressure on each quad.

    This is probably one of my favorites!

    Adductors

    Why It’s Important

    Our adductor muscles are responsible for drawing our bodies to its center axis.

    While these muscles are super important for our leg movement during a run, proper recovery of them is often neglected!

    It’s important we remember to increase blood flow to this sneaky area, as it can hold a lot of tension.

    The Exercise

    First, lay the foam roller down vertically.

    Then, externally rotate your thigh so your inner thigh is against the outside of the foam roller.

    Start with the roller at the top of the knee, then if able to do so, roll towards your the middle of the thigh.

    You’ll likely experience discomfort with this exercise when you start, and that’s normal! 

    Just start slowly and work your way up from there.

    Glutes

    Why It’s Important

    While foam rolling glutes looks and feels weird, it’s amazingly satisfying and good for you! 

    The tension we feel in the glutes can actually cause a myriad of issues from hip to back problems.

    So making this a regular part of your recovery technique is super important! 

    The Exercise

    Luckily for us, this one’s pretty easy!

    You just sit on the foam roller and cross one leg over the other.

    Roll the foam roller slowly back and forth to target the gluteal muscles.

    [Video Credit: Howcast

    Extra Tips For Foam Rolling Technique

    • Roll Slowly

      Don’t rush through this process.

      It’s meant to be taken as a slow and consistent pace.

    • Set A Timer

      Spend at least 1-2 minutes on each muscle group.

      You’ll be tempted to get impatient and just rush through your routine.

      This defeats the purpose! Give your muscles the attention they deserve.

    • Maintain A Steady Breath

      In order for your muscles to release tension, you should feel relaxed.

      So practice proper breathing exercises during to help you de-stress.

    • Don’t Get Discouraged

      Your technique and foam rolling experience, in general, will be crap when you start.

      Sometimes it even feels like a workout in itself! But it gets (and feels) better.

      But to get there you have to practice and work at it every day.

    • Schedule It

      Have set times throughout the week that you use your foam roller and make it habitual.

      For instance, I try to always foam roll right after my run. So it becomes part of my running routine.

      That way, I never forget it.

    Mistakes To Avoid

    • Don’t Roll When Super Sore

      When you first start foam rolling (or running for that matter) you’re likely going to be sore.

      This is normal and totally fine. Just know when to hold off on the foam rolling.

      A day or two is best.

    • No Rolling On Bones

      Muscles only!

      This can lead to injury if you’re not careful so be sure to have the muscle recovery techniques down, and be careful to not roll your bones absentmindedly .

    • Don’t Overdo It

      If you still feel tension after a full foam rolling session, don’t spend more time on a muscle area just because it still feels tense.

      Give it more time to recover, and if it still feels off check in with your medical doctor.

    • If You Feel Pain — Stop!

      Don’t force your body through a foam rolling session.

      While some of the exercises might make you feel sore as you’re releasing the muscle tension, you’ll be able to feel the difference.

      So really examine what you’re feeling and be mindful of this!

    • Don’t Use The Wrong Foam Roller

      As I mentioned previously, you’re going to have to examine which foam roller is best for you.

      That being said, I think it’s best to ensure you’re not choosing a foam roller that’s too firm in the beginning.

      Since foam rolling will be new to you, it’s likely you’re muscles will feel extra sore when you start.

      The firmer the foam roller, the deeper the massage is on your muscle tissue, which can cause unnecessary discomfort.

      So consider opting for a foam roller that’s on the softer side!

    Sidenote: If infographics are more your jam…you can pin the one below for later!
    So, there you have it, friends!

    I hope this article broke it down in such a way where you feel less intimidated by the foam rolling process.

    The best part about it?

    It actually feels amazing once you get the routine down!

    There’s nothing quite like practicing proper recovery techniques to keep your body happy and healthy.

    Sometimes we just gotta thank our bodies for all the miles they get us through. 😊

    Cheers,

    Kat Rentas

    Founder, A Next Level You

    P.S. If you’re interested in forming a running habit check out my Run Your Life 7 Day Training, where I’ll teach you the tools + tactics necessary to start running right now. 

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