Runners! You need to foam roll! Foam rolling is one of the simplest, most inexpensive, and most effective techniques to keep your muscles balanced and injury-free.
I originally posted on this very topic in May 2017. Read it first — all the things still apply. This one just has more oomph.
I’ve been a runner for the better part of the last ten years. I’ve run thousands of miles in more pairs of shoes than I can count. But no matter how far, how long, or how slow or fast I run, I find I’m always learning something new — be it about injury, nutrition, or preventative work. Most recently I realized I don’t foam roll as effectively as I could. Yes, you read that right. I’ve been foam rolling for years but not until the last several days have I realized I haven’t been doing it the best way possible.
Runners: You Need to Foam Roll!
What is foam rolling?
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is the technical term for what us runners call foam rolling. It’s the act of rolling a muscle over a hard foam cylinder. In some cases the SMR tool of choice may be a lacrosse ball, a golf ball, or even a stick-like apparatus. Regardless of the tool you use, when you apply pressure to a muscle to relieve tension, you’re performing self-myofascial release.
Why should I foam roll?
Sometimes our muscles are so tight or injured they develop adhesions or “knots.” By foam rolling over the adhesions, we allow the muscle to relax and lengthen. By allowing the muscle to relax and lengthen, we can begin to correct muscle imbalances.
Most individuals have muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can be a result of work (sitting hunched at a desk), recreation (perfecting your golf swing), training for an athletic activity (running a marathon), or injury. Foam rolling is one way to correct the imbalances and restore range of motion.
Foam rolling is also an excellent warm-up activity. By relaxing and lengthening the muscles before a workout, and increasing your range of motion, you’ll be less likely to cause additional imbalance or further injury. Likewise, foam rolling will help your muscles warm up quicker than if you simply started a workout without any warm up at all.
When should I use the foam roller?
You — we — should foam roll all the time. Before a run is a great idea — it will help loosen the muscle and release any tension. After a run is also a great idea to help loosen any adhesions or tightness acquired during the activity itself. You can also work a foam rolling routine into your strength work or rest days. #foamrolleverydamnday
How do I foam roll?
Here’s how to properly and effectively foam roll: First, roll the entire length of the muscle or muscle groups you’re targeting. As you roll you may notice a few “tender” spots. Those are the spots you need to work on. Next, go back to one of those tender spots and apply pressure with the foam roller. Hold this pressure for a minimum of 30 seconds. Why? Because that’s how long it takes for the muscle to tell the brain there’s pressure, and as a result, for the brain to relax the muscle. If you aren’t holding pressure on the tender spot for a minimum of 30 seconds, you’re not doing much of anything.
Roll all of your muscles. You can roll your calves, quads, hamstrings, TFL, hip flexors, lats, biceps and triceps — the sky’s the limit! Roll muscles you don’t even think need to be rolled.
What to do when you’re injured:
Self-myofascial release is important for runners, athletes, and individuals working on general fitness. Our bodies are incredibly resilient and will find the path of least resistance when it comes to getting a job done — say running on an overused hamstring complex, for example. So even when you think your injury has nothing to do with foam rolling, it very well may. Muscle imbalances and subsequent “correction” by the body (like using your piriformis instead of your glutes to run) are responsible for many more injuries than you may think. When in doubt, foam roll.
Foam rolling may seem like a chore but believe you me, it’s an amazing — and SIMPLE — way to make your body feel better. If you take away nothing from this post except for one thing, make it this: hold the point of tension for a minimum of 30 seconds. That’s all I ask.
Do you regularly foam roll?
Do you hold the spot for 30 seconds or longer?