Foam Rolling for Runners


Foam rolling is a great way to take care of your body during race training. I really believe it was the pixie dust that got me through my full marathon without any major aches and pains. The importance of using a foam roller is starting to make its way around the running world, but not everyone necessarily knows how or why we use it. If you are one of those people, fear not! Here are some FAQs regarding foam rolling along with some examples of how to foam roll those notoriously tight muscles.

What is foam rolling?
Put simply, foam rolling is a form of stretching. The fancy term for it is “Self-Myofascial Release” or “SMR” if you like acronyms. It’s a method that involves putting gentle pressure on a trigger point or a “knot” within the muscle to increase blood flow and release tension. This is similar to a massage.

What are the benefits of foam rolling? 
There are SO MANY. Foam rolling can improve your range of motion, relieve muscle soreness after a long run, prevent injury, improve gait, decrease joint pain, correct muscle imbalances and increase circulation. It basically makes you a better, faster, less injury-prone runner, and it can make running less painful in general.

When should I foam roll?
The great thing about foam rolling is that you don’t have to be warmed-up to do it. In fact, I would recommend doing it at the very beginning of your workout. This will make you more mobile and less injury prone when you move into the actual workout. It’s also a great way to cool down after a long run.

How do I foam roll?
Slowly roll over the targeted area until you find a pressure point. You will know when you are on a pressure point because it will feel really tender and you will experience some discomfort. Depending on how tight the area is, it could be A LOT of discomfort or just a little. Stay on that tender spot for 30-90 seconds and breathe slowly. Try to relax your body. It’s easy to tense up and clench your hands and face when you feel the pain, but try to avoid that. After the 30-90 seconds, you will start to feel the discomfort subside and the muscle will relax. You want to take the time to really explore the muscle and find multiple pressure points. Try slowly rolling forward and back or side to side and notice how just a slight change in your position can locate new pressure points. Here are a few more tips:

  • Move slow. It’s tempting to roll quickly over the muscle, especially when it’s really painful but this is ineffective. It takes time for the muscle to relax and rolling quickly over a tender spot won’t fix anything.
  • Choose the density of your foam roller. If foam rolling a certain area is too painful for you, start with a softer foam roller then build your way up. If you want to really get in there and apply a lot of pressure, try using a rumble roller or a lacrosse ball. Lacrosse balls are especially great for rolling out the bottoms of the feet.
  • Remember that everything in our body is connected. For example, if you’re feeling a lot of discomfort in your IT band, it could actually be your glutes and hips that are tight. If you’re feeling some discomfort in your lower back, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to foam roll your lower back. It could be that your hip flexors or lats are really tight. Just be diverse with what you foam roll.

Foam rolling suggestions for runners:

PicCollageIliotibial (IT) Band/Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL):  Lie on one side with the foam roller just in front of the hip. Cross the top leg over the lower leg, placing that foot on the floor. Slowly roll from the hip joint down toward the knee (but avoid rolling on the knee). You can also try slowly rocking forward and back to see if you locate a more sensitive area toward the front or back of the leg.


Piriformis: Sit on top of the foam roller. Cross one foot over the opposite knee. Lean into the hip of the crossed leg. This is really important. For some reason everyone always tries to lean toward the wrong leg. Slowly roll on the back hip area to find the tender spot. If you don’t feel any pressure points, try sitting on top of a tennis ball or lacrosse ball.


Calves: Place foam roller under the calf. Cross one leg over the other to increase pressure. If this creates too much pressure for you, try it without crossing the top leg over. Be sure to roll the entire length of the muscle.


Shins: This is the area that bothers me the most when I run. Place the foam roller under your shins and then put your hands on the floor in front of you. You can cross your legs at the ankles or roll both shins at once. It works best when you roll over either side of the shin bone. This is also a great one to do with a lacrosse ball.

Recommended products:

Happy foam rolling, runners!



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