We love to hate the foam roller. After a full round of strength training posts, I believe it is a good time to post about the benefits of the foam roller and how to do it correctly. I didn’t learn to love and value my foam roller until I had to walk backward down hills during the last five miles of a mountain marathon. Not pleasant. Since then, I have be come a huge advocate of foam rolling because I know it works. I know it keeps me running. If I slack off for a week, I can tell. My muscles start get tight and I start having some tension in the typical area’s in my quads and calves. And I know, if I don’t get serious with the rolling again, I’ll be wishing I had.
Rolling helps prevent injuries by keeping your muscles loose. Tight muscles do not move the way they are supposed to and then they get pulled, torn, or they cause injury to a supportive tendons/muscles that gets incorporated to help the tight ones than is typically would with a healthy muscle. Our muscles build up lactic acid which can make them sore, especially for new runners or runner conquering more distance. Rolling breaks this up and allows your body to flush out what it doesn’t use. Your muscles will eventually learn to burn the lactic acid as a form of fuel and you don’t get sore anymore (I know you don’t believe me, but as ultrarunners who have been running 100s a while if they get sore…). Tight muscles prevent us from using the most efficient running form we can because we don’t have the range of motion and we rely more heavily on support muscles. Running efficiently means more speed, more endurance, and less injury. Every runner wants those things, or at least the last one.
Can’t I just stretch to make sure I maintain mobility and range of motion? In my experience, no, Foam Rolling is the answer. Runners hear a lot about stretching and there is research saying stretching is helpful, pointless, or harmful to runners. Stretching done right, can be helpful (I’ve posted about yoga and it’s benefits to runners). But stretching done wrong can be very very bad for runners. Cold muscles should not be stretched. Muscles should not be stretched past the point of tension (not pain). If you do want to stretch, make sure your muscles are sufficiently warm, after a run is best. If you stretch without them being warm, you can tear them or strain them. How to stretch and which positions are best can be complicated. Foam rolling on the other hand is easy. I like easy.
Yes foam rolling is one more thing to consume your time. The thing with foam rolling is, you really can’t make an excuse not to, because you can do it and watch TV, talk on the phone, supervise children, help with homework, and play with the dogs. The one thing I don’t recommend is eating and foam rolling. It can be messy. The amount of time you spend rolling is going to depend on your body and the amount of running you do. I run 90 miles a week and do strength training on the days I don’t run, which means I’m pretty dedicated to my foam roller and we spend a lovely time together each evening.
For other runners, daily rolling isn’t going to be necessary. At a minimum runners should be rolling on days they run. It doesn’t have to be right after running, although that would likely be best. I don’t have time to do it right after a run, because I have to get to work. I roll in the evenings before I go to bed.
How to foam roll:
- Purchase a foam roller. I like the foam rollers that are not actually foam. They are a hollow plastic tube about 18 inches long (45cm) and five inches (12.5cm) in diameter. They have contoured cushioning on the outside surface. You can use just a regular foam roller, which many gyms have if you want to try before you buy. You can try them at running stores too. The plastic tube ones are more durable.
- Find some floor space, light carpeting will be okay, but you don’t want super cushy.
- For the ITBand, place the roller on the floor and lay on the foam roller on the outside of your leg beginning at the him. Support yourself with your arms; you can put the other leg down if you need too. Slowly roll down to your knee and then back up. It’s important to go slow. Stop on any knots (bumps) you feel and rest here for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Continue rolling that muscle for 1-2 minutes and then switch.
You can choose to roll just the muscles you typically have problems with, or you can roll all the muscles of the leg. I recommend all the muscles of the leg because they all work together and if you are having a problem with one, it could really be a problem with a different one that is merely impacting the one that is causing you concern. You can also choose to roll only when you are having tightness or tension in your muscles or you can choose to roll on a regular basis. I recommend rolling regularly because you will prevent issues from coming up. It also takes less time if you roll regularly than if you have to roll multiple times a day to fix something.
Runners roll routine. Roll for 1-2 minutes on each of the following muscles:
Quads (make sure you get all three during the time you roll this group)
Rolling can make a world of difference. I know it has for me. I even take the roller to races with me and on vacation.