A basic guide to foam rolling for runners

Painful yet extremely beneficial. Here’s a basic guide to foam rolling for runners.

Foam roller

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release used to reduce muscle soreness, reduce your risk of injury, and improve your mobility – making you a more efficient and injury-free runner. Foam rolling can be done before exercise/running, after running, or at any time of the day to reap the many benefits.

Related blog post: 10 Best affordable beginner running products.

Reduced muscle soreness

Foam rolling increases the blood flow to our working muscles. After a hard run or workout, our muscles are filled with lactic acid. Increasing the blood flow to our muscles flushes out this lactic acid by bringing more oxygen to the muscles to speed up our recovery and reduce our muscle soreness.

Regular foam rolling alongside a consistent stretching routine should, in theory, speed up your recovery between sessions. While it may hurt towards the beginning you’ll soon get used to it helping you on your way to becoming a better runner, all while reducing your risk of injury.

Reduced risk of injury

Foam rolling after a run or workout decreases our recovery time, essential for hitting our next run or session hard. Secondly, foam rolling a weak/injured muscle before a run or workout activates this muscle and ensures it does not work too hard. This is great for evening out muscular imbalances while protecting yourself from further injury.

This is especially great if you’re just returning from an injury, whether a calf strain or hamstring tear foam rolling should do the trick. However, ensure to take it slow while paying great attention to your body – any unusual pain and you should stop.

Foam rolling will improve your mobility

person foam rolling

Improving your mobility as a runner will increase your overall running efficiency. Foam rolling helps loosen tight areas such as our hips, quads, and glutes. Foam rolling directly before your run will improve your running efficiency for that run, allowing you to run faster with less energy.

Likewise, improved mobility makes us an all-round better athlete helping us perform our strength training sessions and other functions moments in the required full range of motion – essentially indirectly improving our running.

4 basic foam rolling exercises for beginners

We have gathered together four basic foam rolling exercises for beginners. These are designed to complement your running while reducing your risk of injury, improving your mobility, and reducing muscle soreness – allowing you to recover quicker after each run or workout.

1. Hip flexors

Sitting at a desk all day is a common cause of tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexors are a common cause of injury, frequently leading to muscular imbalances.

How to foam roll tight hip flexors:

  • Position yourself in a plank position
  • Place the foam roller towards the top of your thighs
  • Roll backwards on your forearms with the foam roller to target your tight hip flexors
  • This can be done with both or one leg at a time

2. Upper back

Although lower back pain is a common problem, foam rolling your lower back may actually cause more damage than good. However, we can foam roll our upper back.

How to foam roll your upper back:

  • Position the foam roller beneath your shoulder blades
  • Bend your knees and position your hands behind your head for a full stretch
  • Lean back onto the foam roller and slowly roll back and forth
  • Stop on tight areas to reduce back pain
  • Repeat

3. Glutes

Our glutes (buttocks) also become tight from sitting down, and actually through running. Reducing tightness in our glutes will reduce our risk of injury and improve our running performance.

How to foam roll tight glutes:

  • Bend your knees and cross one leg over the other at the knee
  • Sit on the foam roller on the side which is crossed over
  • Roll up and down the glute muscle pausing on any tight spots
  • Repeat

4. Calves

Tight calves will often lead to muscular imbalances while increasing your risk of injury. Tight calves are common among runners. Be sure to perform static calf stretches after running and foam rolling a couple of times a day.

How to roll tight calves:

  • Lie down with your back flat on a mat
  • Lift yourself up on your hands placed directly below your shoulders
  • Place the foam roller under your calves
  • Roll up and down your calves to reduce tightness
  • This can be done with both or one leg at a time

A few useful videos about foam rolling:

Video credit: Coach David Roache

Coach David Roache outlines the very basics of foam rolling for runners, addressing some key areas you should focus on. As David recommends, ten-minutes of foam rolling a day is plenty – reducing muscle tightness and keeping injury at bay.

Video credit: The Run Experience

Another great video on foam rolling is from the run experience. Explaining the very basics alongside a few great exercises for you to try at home!

What is the best foam roller to use?

Now that we know how to foam roll, what is the best foam roller to use? Foam rollers actually come in different sizes, textures, and vary between toughness. We have listed some of our favourite foam rollers below for you to take a look at:

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1. Reehut 2 in 1 foam roller

Reehut 2 in 1 foam roller - product recommendation

This foam roller from Reehut comes with a regular firm roller for myofascial release alongside a smaller slightly softer roller for those more sensitive areas. This softer roller is great for warm-ups before runs and or workouts while also ideal for those suffering from shin splints due to the slightly softer nature of the roller.

View on Amazon

2. Maximo fitness foam roller

Maximo fitness foam roller

Unlike the above foam roller from Reehut, this roller is a medium-density roller – a little more forgiving than others. Using a medium density foam roller is great for those who suffer extreme muscle tightness, whether this is your calves, shins, or IT band it’s never a bad idea to have one of these lying around.

View on Amazon

3. FitBeast beginner foam roller set

FitBeast foam roller suggestion

Finally, this foam roller set from FitBeast is perfect for beginners. Coming with a regular density foam roller, a softer roller, and two massage balls you can’t really ask for much more.

View on Amazon

The bottom line

No matter how seriously you take running, foam rolling is a must-have in your arsenal. Reducing your risk of injury, improving your mobility, and reducing muscle soreness this painful little toy is quite the piece of kit. We suggest starting off with ten-minutes of foam rolling three times a week, slowly building this up to a more regular schedule if you so choose.

Is foam rolling good for runners?

Yes! Regular foam rolling will reduce muscle soreness, reduce your risk of injury, improve your mobility and so much more!

How often should a runner foam roll?

We recommend beginning foam rolling three times a week ten-minutes at a time.

Should you foam roll every day?

If you can, foam rolling every day may further increase the many benefits. However, many choose to foam roll slightly less due to time constraints.

Does the hurt from foam rolling ever stop?

If you've got muscle soreness you're going to feel a bit of pain. However, once you reduce the initial tightness it should no longer be as painful as the beginning. Nevertheless, as long as you keep pushing yourself and breaking down your muscles foam rolling will hurt... a little.

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