How to Foam Roll – Best 9 Foam Rolling Exercises Specific for Runners

Learning how to use correctly a foam roll is crucial to take advantage of the Self Myofacial Release (SMR) technique. Here are the best foam rolling exercises specific for runners.

I include the exercises in this list at least twice a week in my training routine. As a runner, I have found foam rolling to be helpful to recover my muscles and prevent injuries. Let’s deep dive into how to foam roll. 

Foam rolling after the training session is proven to reduce the impact of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (also known as DOMS). Doms are those pains you feel the next day after your training. Doms can have an effect on performance as well as posture as our bodies tend to compensate for the discomfort.

How To Foam Roll

Here are the exercises for:

Calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)
Hamstrings
IT Band (Iliotibial)
Quads
Glutes (Piriformis)
Hip Flexors
Groin and adductors
Upper back
Shoulders

Keep reading to find out the exact way to foam roll each one of the muscle groups that are important for runners.

Calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Calves

Calves are one of the parts of the body that suffer the most during running. Especially when your body is compensating for the lack of strength of other group muscles. 

Foam rolling your calves will help to reduce the tension and prevent potential injuries.

Great for: Achilles, heel, foot, and knee pain

How to do it 

  • Start by sitting on the floor extending legs in front of you
  • Place the roller under the right calf
  • Rest the left foot on the floor, or cross the left ankle over the right to provide extra pressure
  • Lift your hips off the floor using hands as support
  • Roll over back and forth from ankle to below the knee, rotating leg in and out. 
  • Time: 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on left calf

Hamstrings

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Hamstrings

Massaging your hamstrings is a great way to release the pressure on your lower back.  Also, it strengthens some of the most important group muscles in running [Biceps femoris, Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus]. 

Strong and relaxed hamstrings help you to be biomechanically more efficient.

Great for: hamstring tightness, knee and back pain

How to do it 

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight
  • Place the foam roller underneath the thigh of your right leg
  • Place your left foot flat on the floor
  • Start rolling back and forth from the lower part of your glutes to just before the knee
  • For more pressure, you can cross the left leg over the right
  • Time: 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on the left leg 

IT Band (Iliotibial)

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling IT band

This may be one of the most painful muscle groups to massage [i.e. good pain], especially if you are not used to it, at least for me. But trust me you’ll feel in clouds after this foam rolling.

Great for: quad tightness, hip flexors tightness, knee pain

How to do it 

  • Lie on one side with the foam roller under the hip
  • Cross the top leg over the lower leg. Place the foot flat on the floor
  • Start rolling from the hip joint to just before the knee
  • Find the tender spots and hold for 30-60 seconds
  • Continue rolling for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on the other leg

Quads 

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Quads

The quadriceps are a muscles group comprised of four parts: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Foam rolling can treat all of them.

Great for: quad tightness, knee pain

How to do it 

  • Start by laying face down in a plank position. Brace your core
  • Place the foam roller under your quads
  • Begin to slowly roll back and forth from the hip joint to just before the knee
  • Find tender spots and hold it for 30-60 seconds. Keep breathing
  • Continue rolling for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on the other quad

Glutes (Piriformis)

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Glutes

The piriformis is the flat muscle behind the gluteus maximus.

Below exercises will help you not only with the piriformis but with all the glutes muscles [gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus]

Great for: lower back pain, hamstring tightness

How to do it 

  • Start by sitting on the roller with left knee bent and foot on the floor
  • Put right calf over left knee
  • Lean into your left side and roll back and forth along your left hip and glute
  • To trigger points and knots rotate hips left and right
  • Continue for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat with right glute

Hip Flexors

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Hip Flexors

Sitting extended periods of time and a sedentary life may put a strain on your hip flexors. 

Great for: Hip flexors tightness, lower back pain

How to do it 

  • Start by laying down in a plank position over the foam roller
  • Place the foam roller underneath your left hip flexor with your right leg comfortably bent to the side
  • Start rolling up and down, and side to side targeting the hip flexor, focusing on trigger points
  • Continue for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on the right hip flexor

Groin and adductors

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Groin

Great for: groin tightness, knee pain, hip flexors tightness, calf pain

How to do it 

  • Lie facing down with the foam roll beside and parallel to your body
  • Bend your left leg about 90 degrees and keep your right leg straight
  • Lift your left leg and place it over the foam roller
  • Move side to side as the foam roller massages the full length of your groin
  • Continue for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on the right groin

Upper back

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Back

Great for: upper back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain

How to do it

  • Start by laying on your back with the foam roller underneath your upper back
  • Bend knees and place feet flat on the floor
  • Your arms can be either behind your head or crossed on your chest
  • Brace your core and lift up to a low bridge position
  • Start rolling slowly between your mid-back and your lower neck
  • Focus on tight spots and trigger points
  • Continue for 2-3 minutes

Note: Make sure you don’t foam roll the lower spine

Shoulders – Bonus

UpbeatRun-Foam Rolling Shoulders

Great for: upper back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain

How to do it 

  • Start by laying on the side with the foam roller underneath your right shoulder
  • The lower body rest on the floor serving as support
  • Begin rolling up and down on your deltoid muscle
  • You can rotate your body slightly to find trigger points near your upper back
  • Continue for 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat on left shoulder

Frequent Asked Questions – FAQs

What are the benefits of foam rolling?

  • Ease muscle pain
  • Correction of muscle imbalances
  • Increase range of motion
  • Improved neuromuscular efficiency
  • Temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite
  • Relieve back pain
  • Aids in muscle repair recovery
  • Manage fibromyalgia symptoms
  • Help you to relax

How to use a foam roller

  • Identify the sore or tight area of your muscle.
  • Slowly locate the targeted area and center it above the roller. 
  • Sink your body onto the foam roller until you reach a point of discomfort and hold it there. Identify the difference between discomfort and unbearable pain
  • Hold for 60–120 seconds. Breath deeply
  • Although the pressure itself is beneficial, you will get better results by rolling slowly back and forth to stimulate the area.
  • Repeat as required and keep breathing

What are the types of foam rolling techniques? 

  • Cross-friction
  • Longitudinal massage
  • Pressure & stretching
  • Circular massage
  • Pressure & relaxation
  • Pressure & twisting
  • Pressure & mobilisation
  • Pressure & vibration

How to pick the right foam roller?

  • Firmness: For newbies, a softer foam can be best when just starting out. A hard foam roller is recommended to a more experieced person willing to handle larger pain.
  • Texture: The texture of a roller helps to determine the level of intensity. This can range from a perfectly smooth surface to a spiky one.
  • Portability: Buy a foam roller that fits in a standard suitcase if you’re looking to travel.
  • Tech Features: For a higher level of muscle activation, some new foam rollers on the market include vibration, while some others heat/cold features.

Is the speed of rolling important when foam rolling?

Depending on your training objective you can adopt one of two rolling speeds. 

  • Fast rolling: activation (warm up the muscles before the training session)
  • Slow rolling: recovery (after a long working day with restricted movement or after an intensive training session)

When to use Foam roller?

Warm up

  • Calves
  • Iliotibial band
  • Piriformis

Cooldown

  • Hamstrings
  • Adductors
  • Quadriceps

Key Takeaways when Foam Rolling

  • Foam rolling for recovery must be executed very slowly, in a concentrated and focused manner
  • Work a section of muscle for approximately 60 to 120 seconds, depending on your needs
  • Adjust the pressure level according to the pain level. Over time you can withstand the pain and start relaxing through the session 
  • Relax your working muscles as much as possible
  • When foam rolling focus on your muscle not on the tendons
  • Through the entire session breathe deeply and evenly
  • Observe your body and avoid ‘bad pain’. This may be an indicator about when you should avoid self-myofascial release (SMR
  • If you are unsure whether you should use the foam roller or if you suffer from severe pain or recurring injuries after rolling, we recommend you to consult a physiotherapist and/or take medical specialist advice.

What To Do Next

Start your foam rolling sessions as part of your weekly training routine. We recommend you do it at least twice a week.

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