How To Foam Roll Like A Pro

By Karen Poole

Foam rolling has been increasing in popularity in the past 10 years in the running community. If you are new to running or doing more long distance running, you may have seen foam rollers around. Do you know what they are? Do you know what foam roller is right to buy or how and when to use them? If you answered no to any of these questions, I’m here to help you become an expert.

What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release or simply, self massage. Using a foam roller is a much more affordable and convenient way of getting a massage and relieving tightness and tension in your muscles and fascia. Most of us can’t afford a massage every day or even every week, but the purchase of a foam roller for around $40 can be a lifesaver. 

For runners, foam rolling can be used for warm up and for recovery. Before you work out or run you can use a foam roller for 5-10 minutes to increase blood flow to your muscles and prime your body for exercise. After your run, use the foam roller to speed up recovery, release tension, improve blood flow, and bring oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. 


Which Foam Roller Is Right for Me?

At first foam rolling can be slightly uncomfortable, so you need to start out with a less dense foam roller. As you progress, you can increase the density of your foam roller. I have three different foam rollers at home and I use each one for different things. 

What type of foam roller you purchase is important. You need to know what you are looking for because not all foam rollers are created equal. You want to make sure you get a good quality roller. One of my top recommendations is that you try out different foam rollers before purchasing one. If you are a member of a gym, there are often multiple types and densities available for you to try. If not, see if you can try them out at a local running store. 

Here are the 4 things to look for in a foam roller:

Durability - My first foam roller was made of a soft foam and wore out within a year. You want to look for a foam roller that is the right firmness, but also will last. Firmer foam rollers tend to last longer.

Density - This is key. Which foam roller is right for you will depend on your level. As someone new to foam rolling, you will want a softer density roller. Something that gives just enough pressure to release your muscles without putting you in unbearable pain. As you practice, you may want to get a firmer foam roller, or even one with a grid-like surface to work deeper into tight muscles. 

Surface Texture - A smooth surface foam roller is best for beginners, while those more used to foam rolling can get a foam roller with a grid-like surface or textured top. The GRID and Rumble Roller are two of my favorite textured foam rollers. 

Length - I love the longer foam rollers, 36 inches is best for total body rolling. A shorter foam roller may be good for travel or if you have limited space. 


Simple Foam Rolling Routine for Runners

I’m going to teach you how to foam roll specifically for runners, but many of these moves are great for anyone who works out to ease tight muscles and fascia. 

When you foam roll, you want to spend about 30-60 seconds on each area. Apply as little or as much pressure as you are able. You may feel slight discomfort, similar to a deep tissue massage, but you do not want extreme pain. Over time, you will be able to handle more pressure. As you find trigger points or extra tight spots, sit on these areas and allow the pain to dissipate, this is usually around 20-30 seconds. This foam roll routine targets common areas of tightness suffered by runners. It should take you around 10 minutes to complete. 


IT Band - Roll up and down from knee up to hip. This is often a very tight and sore area. Reduce or increase pressure by using your top leg to press off the ground. When you find an especially sore spot, stay on it for a few seconds until the tightness is relieved. Continue rolling up and down slowly.


Quads - Roll up and down from hip flexors to just above the knee. Rock from side to side to roll out the entire quadriceps muscle.


Hamstrings - Roll out your hamstrings starting from behind your knees up to your butt. Roll side to side as well to get the entire muscle group. 


Calves - Move up and down, the entire length of the calf muscle and rock side to side to get the entire muscle. For less pressure, roll over both calves at the same time. For more pressure, stack one leg on top of the other. 


Glutes - Cross one leg over the other in a figure-4 pattern. Roll forward and back over your glutes on the right side. Switch legs and repeat on the left. 


Upper Back - Lay back over the foam roller. Roll up and down from upper to mid-back over your shoulder blades. Stopping at your bra strap is a good way to remember this for us ladies! (Avoid rolling over your lower back as this can be too sensitive of an area for foam rolling.) 


Karen Poole is a RRCA certified running coach, personal trainer, and lover of all things fitness! She believes that dark chocolate and a good run can solve most problems. You can follow her on Instagram at @superwomankw and visit her website at reasontoplay.com

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