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How to foam roll

They see me rollin’, They hating. . . Only kidding… 😉

This article is about foam rolling. If you’re new to running, you’ve probably heard people talking about foam rolling, and nodded along, not really knowing what they were on about. It lurks in that 3rd pillar of running, injury prevention, that many don’t pay attention to until after they have had an injury.

A foam roller, and some associated tools should form part of your toolkit for helping to prevent injury, allowing you to run more consistently.

What is foam rolling?

The scientific name is SMR, or Self Myofascial Release, and it doesn’t have to be done with a foam roller. For example, when performing the technique on your foot, you may use a golf ball or tennis ball. Whether you are using a foam roller or a tennis ball, the idea is the same. You are trying to promote healthy tissue by breaking down knots and trigger points that form in the fascia (the sheath surrounding our muscles). If left untreated, these trigger points limit blood flow, eventually leading to scar tissue formation, and eventually, they could be the starting point for a nasty injury.

Who should do it?

Everyone. Seriously, everyone forms trigger points at some time. Shoulder blades are a particularly common place to get them if you work at a desk. Certainly everyone can benefit from a bit of SMR, but amongst runners, there are two main groups who DEFINITELY need to foam roll:
1) If you are new to running it is worth spending 5-10 minutes foam rolling after each run, to maintain muscle health as you adapt to your new hobby.
2) Runners training high mileage, such as those training for half marathons, full marathons and ultra marathons.

Who else?

If you have a particular bio-mechanical abnormality that causes chronic tightening in some place, foam rolling can aid other treatment you may be having. In fact, if you come to the I Run Success Running Technique Workshop, you will see in people who struggle to squat without lifting their heels, a bit of foam rolling can help correct this abnormality fairly rapidly.

When should you foam roll?

How long is a piece of string? This is going to depend on a number of factors, including training volume and intensity, age, your personal recovery mechanisms etc.
I recommend that all runners have at least one session a week that is dedicated to stretching and foam rolling for 30-45 minutes. For me, this has always been on the evening before my long run, and if I can, I do it again on the evening after my long run, after I’ve bathed and refuelled. This will help you to identify any tight points to be aware of during your run, but it also gives you information you can tell your sports massage therapist.
If you can, spending 5-15 minutes after each run on stretching and foam rolling is an added bonus, and if you ever can’t get out to run for whatever reason, why not get yourself on the foam roller to help maintain muscle health.

How?

Its not obvious is it? You see a foam roller, and its not immediately obvious what to do with it. The idea is to roll slowly from one end of the muscle to the other, and when you find a trigger point (you’ll know!), hold in position and breath through it until the pain eases. What’s important is to be able to put enough of your weight onto the roller so that its effective in reaching those trigger points. Even if you don’t have any obvious trigger points, the rolling slowly from one end of the muscle to the other is still beneficial, especially if you fit one of those groups mentioned above.

Check out these videos for HOW to roll certain muscles.

Quadriceps:

Hamstrings:

Calves:

Glutes/Piriformis:

If you have any questions about foam rolling, or injury prevention techniques, why not come along to my next Running Technique Workshop, where we will learn active techniques for preventing injury, as well as making you a faster more efficient runner.

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Angela Isherwood

Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.

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