For some of you, seeing this title you might be thinking “But surely everyone knows how to use a foam roller”. Sure, it might be something we all get used to after a while, for those starting out, it can be a real pain, literally. There are loads of foam rollers you can get, from BackBaller, to standard ones you can get in Elvery’s and other sports shops. This guide is a whistle stop tour of some of the ways runners can use a foam roller.
We are hoping to create a video series with Barnes Media and Trigger Movement going through each of these exercises in more details, with more. But that’s in the future, and some of you have questions now. We are going to focus on some of the main muscle groups that you may have a few aches and pains in. We have a number of Physios in Tipperary and Dublin who are going to be writing some great content here for Physio corner in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!!
How to: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out, hands on the floor behind you supporting your weight. Place the foam roller under your calves. Slowly roll along the back of your legs up and down from your knees to your ankles.
Why you should do it: Tight calves and limited ankle mobility can seriously hamper your movement. “Foam rolling the muscles on the back of your lower leg can decrease the fascial restrictions in your lower leg and improve your ankle mobility for injury prevention and improved sports performance,” says Kostyukovsky.
When you should do it: Try doing this first thing in the morning to improve ankle stiffness, after sitting all day to get the blood flowing, or after an intense leg workout to reduce future soreness.
How to: Sit with your right leg on the foam roller; bend your left knee, cross your left ankle over your right ankle, and put your hands on the floor behind you. Roll up and down from your knee to just under your right butt cheek. Switch legs.
Why you should do it: “Foam rolling your hamstrings—there are three muscles that all attach to the pelvis—can loosen up your upper leg and improve your hip mobility for decreased stress on your low back and improved sports performance,” says Kostyukovsky.
When you should do it: Sit at a desk all day? Then you definitely need to roll out those tight hammies when you get home. You can also roll this area after an intense leg workout to decrease post-exercise soreness.
How to: Lie facedown on the floor and place the foam roller under your hips. Lean on your right leg and roll up and down from your hip to your knee. Switch legs.
Why you should do it: Your quads are a very dense muscle group with multiple layers of muscles, says Kostyukovsky—and most of us (especially runners and cyclists) are quad-dominant. “There are four quadriceps muscles and they all have a common attachment to the knee cap,” she explains. “Foam rolling this area can improve the flexibility of the knee and therefore decrease the stress it may be imparting on your knee cap, in addition to reducing tension in your upper leg and improving your hip mobility.”
When you should do it: Target the quads before a workout to improve mobility or afterward to decrease soreness.
How to: Sit on the floor with the foam roller on your lower back, resting your hands behind you for balance. Tighten your abs and slowly bend your knees to move the roller up your back, just below your shoulder blades.
Why you should do it: Low back pain is incredible common, and foam rolling can provide immediate relief. “There’s a large area of connective tissue in the low back called the thoracolumbar that surrounds the back muscles and attaches to the spine,” explains Kostyukovsky. “Foam rolling this area can help improve muscle activation and reduce tightness.”
When you should do it: You’ll definitely want to do this move after sitting all day to decrease low back stiffness or soreness.
5. OUTER THIGHS
How to: Lie on your side with the foam roller under your right hip. Bracing your abs and glutes for balance, slowly roll down from your hip to your knee. Switch to the other side and repeat.
Why you should do it: “Because of anatomical differences between women and men, women tend to have tighter outer thighs due to our wider pelvic brim,” says Kostyukovsky. “Rolling the outer thighs can be particularly important for women to help with this tightness.” This move will target the long band of connective tissue that runs from your outer hip to your outer knee called the iliotibial band or ITB, she adds. “Foam rolling this area can decrease stress on your hip and/or knee.”
When you should do it: Try this one before a workout to improve the soft tissue mobility of the outer thigh.
How to: Sitting on the foam roller, cross your right leg over your left knee and lean toward the right hip, putting your weight on your hands for support. Slowly roll one butt cheek over the roller. Switch sides.
Why you should do it: Your glutes are the largest muscle group in your body, and they have a lot of fascial layers, says Kostyukovsky. “A lot of people have difficulty activating these muscles,” too. Foam rolling can help to improve fascial mobility and hip range of motion, she says. “By improving the blood flow and fascial gliding of the butt muscles, foam rolling could also help with muscle activation of the gluteals, which are an important muscle group for everyday activities like stair climbing, as well as sports specific movements like running.”
When you should do it: Wake up those glutes with some foam rolling after sitting all day or before a workout. And if you’ve done a heavy leg workout and know you’re going to feel it tomorrow, grab a foam roller and roll out before heading home and sitting on your butt.