Foam Rollers: What Runners Should Be Aware Of with a Massage Roller

Foam Rolling

Have you ever tried using a foam roller (also known as a fascia or massage roller)? Do you know what a foam roller is? It’s what a lot of fitness professionals refer to as, “the poor man’s massage.” Why is it perfect for runners? Because foam rolling simulates a deep tissue massage by working out the tension in your muscles and by providing a release for the outer layer of the fascia or deep tissue. Foam rolling is also called self-myofascial release (or SMR).

Massage rolling is not always relaxing, as those who have ever received a deep tissue massage can attest to. If you have never tried foam rolling before, or haven’t done so in a while, there’s a chance that it might hurt getting the knots out. But don’t worry, it gets less painful and even easier over time.

As a runner, you are very familiar with tight quads and calves, and sadly also with the pains and aches that can occur in the knees and hips (Runner’s Knee).

If you use a foam roller… 

…you can easily reduce pains and aches, prevent injury, decrease muscle soreness, and give the muscles the desired release before and after you go for a run.

Foam Rolling for Runners

When you decide to foam roll a particular muscle, roll over the area approximately 1 inch (2 to 3 cm) per second. But: it’s important to keep in mind that this may not be possible the first time you use a foam roller. Rolling over the muscle so slowly helps you identify the areas of the muscle that are most sensitive and tender. Choose 2 to 3 areas per muscle that you can apply pressure on for 20-30 seconds to work out knots. You need to make sure you are able to hold that pressure for the entire duration, otherwise it will not be effective. You don’t have to put pressure exactly on the tender or sore area, near the area is also fine.

Good to know: 

You can get foam rollers in many widths and lengths. The longer the foam roller, the more variety of areas you will have access to. The smaller the width, the more pressure the foam roller can put on a specific area. And in terms of length, the longer the massage roller, the more zones you can reach with it. If you need something compact and not too big, then go for a shorter one.

Stiffness: Areas a runner should focus on


Foam Rolling

If your calves are very sensitive, you can do both together or completely avoid lifting your body off of the ground (for some, just setting their calves on a foam roller is enough pressure). For a deeper massage, progress to one at a time. To target the inner and outer sides of the calf muscle (gastrocnemius & soleus), turn the foot (the side of the calf you are foam rolling) side to side.

Iliotibial Band (IT-band)

Foam Rolling

For most runners, the iliotibial band is often the most painful area to foam roll, so you may not be able to get very far in this particular area with the foam roll. Don’t be discouraged, progress is coming faster than you think.


Foam Rolling

If your quads are very sensitive, you can do both together. Take your time, but try to progress to one quad at a time for a deeper massage. Progress even further by bending the knee of the leg you’re foam rolling.


Foam Rolling

Please make sure the foam roller is only on one side. Cross the foot on the side you are foam rolling over the opposite knee. Roll from the lower back, all the way over the glute until it meets the hamstring. You will most likely find the piriformis, the middle of the gluteal muscle, the most tender area.

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Lunden Souza Lunden is a Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach. She inspires sports enthusiasts around the world with her fitness & nutrition tips and workouts on YouTube. View all posts by Lunden Souza »

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