Foam rolling for runners: the ultimate tool for post run recovery
When I was training for my first half marathon, my friend sent me a foam roller in the post. I remember opening the parcel and thinking… “what?” Confused, I stashed it away and didn’t give it any further thought – until I returned from a long run many months later and my legs were stiff and sore. I gave foam rolling a try and I was annoyed I hadn’t used it sooner. Now, I’m a total believer in foam rolling for runners and do it regularly.
Undoubtedly, recovery is one of the most important parts of your training schedule, particularly in the lead up to an event. So, if you’re not using a foam roller yet, here’s some information to get you started.
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is designed to relieve muscle tightness, soreness and inflammation. It’s all about your fascia – the thin casing of connective tissue that holds all the important bits together, including organs, nerve fibre, muscles and bones. When your myofascial tissues are sore, foam rolling can provide self myofascial release, otherwise known as SMR.
SMR is a type of physical therapy that relieves tension and tightness – and foam rolling does just this. A good description is that foam rolling is a mixture of a stretch and a massage and it’s viewed as an efficient way to reduce pain, inflammation and discomfort. And, considering how often runners get achy muscles, foam rolling is perfect for those who are running regularly.
What foam roller should you use?
What actually is a foam roller? It’s pretty much exactly how it sounds: a lightweight cylindrical tube made out of foam. They come in a number of different shapes, sizes and densities, all with the purpose of relieving your muscles. Beginners should start with a low density foam roller that won’t cause too much pain or discomfort. If you find foam rolling effective, you can upgrade to ones with different textures and levels of firmness.
The LuxFit foam roller is a brilliant one if you’re looking to purchase your first foam roller, while TriggerPoint Grid Roller is a great option for something that’s a bit more sturdy, while remaining small and light enough to transport – which is a big plus if you’re taking it to the gym!
Benefits of foam rolling for runners
So, now you know a bit about foam rolling, and have a couple of suggestions around which one’s to buy. Now it’s time for the most important bit – the benefits. In general, running results in a lot of injuries and people don’t put enough emphasis on their pre and post running routines. So, these are the reasons why you should integrate foam rolling into your running routine, sooner rather than later.
When you’re training for a race such as a marathon, your muscles can easily become overworked and overtired – especially those in your legs, glutes and hips. Marathon training takes dedication, and you’ll need to be going for regular runs every week. Foam rolling is a great way to maximise your recovery and ensure your muscles aren’t overtired before you head out for your next run. Heather Robertson has a great foam roller workout for leg recovery.
Warming up and cooling down
All runners should know the importance of warm ups and cool downs before and after running. Warming up helps reduce muscle soreness, while also raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Cooling down does the opposite – helping your temperature and heart rate to return to normal safely. Foam rolling can be a great addition to your warm up and cool down routine by massaging the muscles and pinpointing any areas of discomfort.
Foam rolling can also be a great way to help prevent any injuries. It does this in two ways: firstly by tapping into your body and helping you assess any aches or pains, and secondly by massaging them and relieving the soreness. When a runner regularly uses a foam roller, they become better at connecting with their body and listening to what it needs – and it’s crucial to listen carefully to your body when running.
How to use a foam roller
Seeing as a foam roller is literally a tube of foam, you can understand my confusion when I received one in the post. How to use it isn’t entirely obvious – but it’s actually pretty straight forward.
Before you start using your foam roller, you should be lying on a mat. Find an area of muscle soreness to focus on, and lower your body onto the roller gently. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds or move your body back and forth. You should feel slight discomfort, but not any pain.
Some of the best areas for runners to focus on with their foam roller include:
We all know how pesky and painful calf burn can be – especially if you’ve just done a trail run or tackled some serious hills. Use your foam roller to relieve your calf muscles by sitting on the floor, placing the roller under one of your calves and keeping your other foot over your leg or on the floor. Roll from the ankle to under the knee, and switch.
Your hamstrings keep you stable when you run, so it’s important to give them plenty of attention. Sit on the floor and place the roller under your thighs. Gently lift yourself upwards and use your arms to push your body forward and back, allowing the roller to move from your glutes to your knees.
We use our quads when we run to keep us balanced and stable. Without them we’d fall, so it’s important to keep the muscles healthy. Use your roller to relieve them by lying face down with the roller under your thighs. Keep your hands in a plank position and use your arms to rock forward and back, allowing the roller to shift between your hips to your knees.