Will I see you rollin, or just hatin?

What is Foam Rolling?

You know that injury prevention and performance enhancer thing that you know you should do but probably don’t do or don’t do enough of. Hopefully your mind didn’t wander to too many places as I’m sure you are already doing your strength and mobility work at least a few times a week and getting your pre-run and regular evening stretching in…..

This time I’m referring to foam rolling – yes another thing to add to your list of daily activities you should be doing. I think of foam rolling as the flossing of running hygiene. You’re likely not doing it enough, but you’ll always deny that to whoever asks. You avoid it mostly because it hurts or you’re really not sure how to do it correctly, so today I’ll provide some tips that will focus on the areas that are most important for runners and will help you out.

How does Foam Rolling Work?

I took this explanation from Finish Line PT and I think it explains foam rolling perfectly.
Tight muscles relax when deep pressure is applied. The pressure squeezes everything out of the tissue (muscle) and then when you roll off the area, all that good healthy, fresh blood flows back in. I try to describe it by pinching my thumb. When I squeeze my thumb and then let go, my thumb is all white, because I’ve squeezed all the blood out of that area. Quickly, however, it floods back in with blood. Your arteries in the muscles in your legs get sort of jammed or clogged up, in terms of blood flow, courtesy of sitting far too much and overusing them in the wrong way when we exercise. This makes the muscle feel very tight, firm, and dense. 

Muscles, as I’m sure you all have heard, are mostly water and should therefore feel very soft and pliable. So essentially, your muscles are chronically dehydrated. It’s not an issue of not drinking enough water though (though that might be something to look into as well separately) but it’s that the pathways (capillaries) for blood to get the muscles are blocked due to that chronically over contracted state of the muscles. The deep pressure helps open them up.

How to Foam Roll

The key with all foam rolling is to move very, very slowly. Pick a starting point and move up 2 inches, then back down 1 inch (or vice versa if starting at the top). Each part of your body you foam roll should take about 1 minute. With all foam rolling and trigger point techniques, only ever roll over muscle. DO NOT ROLL OVER BONE. Don’t take your foam roller and roll your quads and then continue straight down over the knee cap.

The main 3 areas you should focus on are the quads, claves, and piriformis (inside your glutes). Check out this video from Dr. Clay Sankey which shows foam rolling you can do all 3 of these areas. Additionally I’ve broken down those areas with individual videos that I’ve been using from Finish Line PT and Tru Motion Therapy which have really helped my foam rolling game out too. For some muscles, mainly the smaller ones, you may need to be a little more localized and use a lacrosse ball, which is smaller and is able to apply deeper pressure more easily.

Quads by Tru Motion Therapy
Dedicate time to this area of your body. The knee is the most commonly injured body part in running and that is mostly in part to overuse and tight quad muscles, so you want to dedicate focus to this area!

Calves by Tru Motion Therapy
This is another area that gives people a lot of trouble. Focus on three sections for the calves (middle, outer, inner). People with higher arches in their feet feel tighter towards their outer calf while people with lower arches or flat feet feel it more towards their inner calf (posterior tibialis muscle).

Your IT band attaches to your glutes partially so if you have issues with ITBS, make sure you foam roll and stretch your glutes.

The Piriformis is another muscle that can literally be a real pain in the backside. Since the muscle is located deep inside the glutes a foam roller likely won’t be able to hit the right spot, but a lacrosse ball will. Put the ball under your butt, slightly to the side, on the painful area. When you hit that spot, you’ll know. It’ll feel weird but the relief will be incredible. Due to its relationship with the sciatic nerve, pain often extends down the thigh in piriformis syndrome. 

Some folks prefer to use a lacrosse ball on the hamstrings as it’s difficult to generate enough pressure with a foam roller to really have a useful impact. Sit on a firm chair. Place a lacrosse ball under your hamstring, roll around until you find a tender spot. You can increase pressure simply by pushing your leg into the ball more or literally using your hands on top of your leg and pushing down. Then straighten (kick out) your knee a few times and let it relax. Repeat 4-5 times, find a new spot, repeat.

This one is really easy. Put foot on ball. Move foot around.

IT Band
The jury is mixed about foam rolling the IT band. The IT band is a thick, dense connective tissue, so a different composition to muscles and therefore doesn’t really achieve the goal of foam rolling which is to help muscles relax and increase blood flow to the area. The IT band can also not be stretched. Although there’s no harm in foam rolling your IT band (it doesn’t appear to make it worse), you’d be better off dedicating your time and effort into other areas, such as your quads and glutes which work with your IT band.

Hope you found some of these tips and videos useful. Let us know how often you foam roll or if you recommend any other foam rolling techniques that will help runners.

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