Foam Rolling for Runners: The Benefits and How to Use Your Roller the Right Way

A personal trainer explains why foam rolling is essential to every runner’s routine

Whether you are training for a long-distance event, a fun 5k, or are just beginning to run recreationally, you might want to think about picking up a foam roller to supplement your training routine. In essence, foam rollers are the more affordable equivalent to a sports massage, and they are portable so that you can take them anywhere.

Foam rolling and self-myofascial release (SMR), also known as self-massage, are both techniques that have been used by physical therapists for years, but rolling has just recently become popular in mainstream fitness. Using a roller is extremely functional for runners as a means of increasing mobility, flexibility and reducing recovery time between training runs.

Why Foam Rolling?
When you use a muscle group to do work repeatedly and consistently for extended periods of time, you break down your muscle fibers so that they may rebuild to become bigger and stronger. This is how your muscles adapt to increased workloads.

In the process your fascia, or the protective tissue that covers your muscles, is weakened. When the fascia repairs itself and grows back together it forms a knot above your muscle tissue which can limit flexibility, mobility and circulation.

Using a foam roller as a part of your pre-workout, post-workout or active recovery routine will allow you to flatten out those knots so that you can get your muscle groups back to their intended length and healthy functionality.

The Benefits of Foam Rolling for Runners
So what are the specific benefits of foam rolling for runners?

With an increase in the demand of your weekly training volume, you’ll want to make sure that your muscles have enough time to completely recover between training runs. Using a roller or another SMR device for just 5 to 15 minutes before and/or after your running session can dramatically reduce the amount of recovery time needed between your workouts.

Including a brief rolling session (as little as 5 to 10 minutes) immediately after your run can reduce the build-up of lactic acid in your muscle fibers— meaning you can avoid being incredibly sore for days after a taxing run.

Foam rolling your lower body before your run increases blood and oxygen flow to your lower extremities. Increasing circulation before a run significantly lowers your chances of injury while running.

Runners are notorious for having poor flexibility due to the demand that the continuous motion and impact places on your muscle fibers; using a foam roller to flatten out the knots in your fascia while maintaining a regular stretching program can noticeably increase your flexibility in just a matter of 4 to 8 weeks. This makes the foam roller an excellent device to use in your cool down routine.

Which Muscle Groups Should Runners Roll?
The essential muscle groups for runners to roll are the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, inner thighs, and around the IT band. Keep in mind that your upper body is also engaged for balance, strength, and momentum while running. It would be wise to take some time to roll out the upper back and the shoulders as well.

Putting Your Roller into Action
Take 1 to 2 minutes to roll out each of the areas mentioned above. Roll over the muscle group until you find a knot or trigger point in your fascia. You will know when you find one, because you will feel an increase in pressure and a slight amount of pain. Use your body weight to hold pressure on that point for 10 to 45 seconds.

Keep in mind that the rolling process is only used to identify trigger points. It is the static pressure that you apply which breaks down the knots in your fascia.

Roll for 5 to 15 minutes as part of your warm-up and/or 5 to 15 minutes as a part of your cool down and stretching routine. On your rest day, take 30 to 45 minutes to roll out the entire body.

Why Every Runner Needs Stronger Glutes
Gear Review: EvoFit's enso Muscle Roller
10 Essential Home Workout Tools

Runner's World: On a Roll
Competitor: The Benefits of Using a Foam Roller
The Guardian: How to Use a Foam Roller: A Runner's Guide
The Art of Manliness: A Beginner's Guide to Self-Myofascial/Trigger Point Release