December 12, 2021 8 min read

There's nothing like an excellent old runner's high for your mind and your body, but any runner will tell you that running is one workout that can be tough on your body.

Proper maintenance of your body is the best way to ensure that you stay fast and fit for the long term. A foam roller is a great tool to help you keep your muscles healthy and ready for your next run. Read on to learn everything you need to know about using a foam roller and our favorite 7 moves to help runners recover.

blue foam roller on a dark wooden floor

What is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a versatile tool for loosening up your muscles before and after a workout. Foam rollers use your body weight to release tension in the soft tissue throughout your body, providing a deep tissue massage that any runner will appreciate.

Foam rollers are popular amongst physical therapists, massage therapists, and your average gym-goers.

Strong runners are accustomed to heavy cardio workouts and the strength training necessary to support them. Foam rolling to warm up your body before you run, or using your foam roller as a recovery tool for your most challenging workouts is a great way to incorporate it into your routine.

Injury Prevention for Runners

Runners are prone to a variety of injuries, especially those who consistently run long distances over time. Running is a great way to stay healthy, but you must care for your body correctly so that you can continue running into the later years of your life.

This  study found that runners most often injure their lower body, lower back, and groin region, with most injuries occurring in the knees. Foam rollers are an effective way to release tension in the larger muscle groups of your legs, glutes, and hip flexors, thereby reducing your chances of injury in these areas.

As with most exercises, runners' most effective injury prevention methods include maintaining proper form and adequately warming up and cooling down before and after your runs. We recommend a dynamic warmup (moving) and a static (not moving) cool down for optimal results.  

Some favorite dynamic stretches for runners are heel-toe walks, high knees, butt-kickers, and lateral walks. For your cool down, try to work in standing quad and hamstring stretches

7 Foam Roller Exercises for Runners

As mentioned above, runners are prone to specific injuries from pounding the pavement (or the treadmill).

We will run through foam roller exercises that help avoid 7 common injuries that runners often experience including:

  • Runner's knee
  • Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome
  • Shin splints
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Hip flexor tension and pain
  • Muscle pulls in the hamstrings or quads
  • Groin injuries

The following foam rolling exercises are preventative.

Complete these exercises before and after your runs to avoid these common problems.

If you already have these injuries or conditions, you should avoid foam rolling directly on the affected areas. Instead, visit a physical therapist or another medical professional who can help you devise an effective treatment plan.

1. Target Your IT Band to Avoid Runner's Knee

 

Repeated stress on your knees can wear down the cartilage under your kneecap, resulting in a condition that we call runner's knee. You can avoid this condition by strengthening the muscles around your knee and using the foam roller to target your IT band.

  1. Lay on your side with your weight on your right forearm. Stack your left leg on top of your right leg. Bend your left knee and place your foot on the ground in front of your right leg. Place the foam roller underneath your right leg, just above the knee.
  2. Shift your weight so that the foam roller rolls up your right thigh to your hip. As you roll, stop when you notice a trigger point, which will feel like a tight, slightly painful knot in your muscle. Slowly roll back and forth for approximately 20 seconds to release the tension in the trigger point.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you no longer feel the tension in your muscles.

2. Target the Glutes to Avoid IT Band Syndrome

You might be wondering why we just covered an IT band foam roller exercise to address your knee pain but not your IT band syndrome. While rolling out the IT band is helpful for both knee pain and IT band syndrome, rolling out your glutes is another way to prevent IT band syndrome.

  1. Sit on your foam roller with the top of your glutes touching the foam roller. Cross one leg over the other so that the foam roller targets one side of your glutes at a time.
  2. Lean forward slightly and roll your glutes over the foam roller. It is a slight movement, so don't worry if you are only shifting a few inches at a time.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you no longer feel tension or trigger points in your glutes.

3. Target Your Calves to Avoid Shin Splints & Achilles Tendonitis

Shin splints and Achilles tendonitis are among the most common complaints of runners. Shin splints cause sharp pain in your shins during and after your runs. Achilles tendonitis causes pain in the back of your lower leg, in the area that connects your leg to your heel bone.

  1. Sit with your legs outstretched in front of you. Place the foam roller underneath your calves. Position your hands behind you and lean back, lifting your body off the ground. Cross one ankle on top of the other so that the foam roller rests underneath one leg at a time.
  2. Shift back and forth so that the foam roller moves up and down the length of your calf muscle. Focus on working out any trigger points that you feel in your muscle.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you no longer feel tightness in your lower legs.

4. Target your Hip Flexors to Avoid Hip Flexor Tension

Hip flexor tension is no stranger to runners. The rolling figure four is a great foam rolling exercise to loosen up your hips and get the blood flowing.

  1. Sit on your foam roller with your right arm stretched out behind you. Bend your left knee and bring your left foot to your right knee in a figure four position. Shift your weight onto your right glute and hip area.
  2. Roll back and forth in a circular motion. Continue until you feel all of the trigger points in the area release.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you resolve all of the trigger points in the area.

5. Target the Quads to Avoid Muscle Pulls

Runners often pull their quads because they work so hard during runs. Healthy quads are also essential to your knee health, so rolling out your quads will help you avoid knee injury as well as muscle pulls.

  1. Lay on your stomach with your weight on your palms. Place the foam roller beneath your thighs.
  2. Slowly shift your weight forward and backward, feeling the foam roller slide up and down on your thighs. Continue to pay attention to trigger points. Slow down when you find them to release the tension.
  3. Repeat until you no longer feel tension or trigger points in your quad muscles.

6. Target the Hamstrings to Avoid Muscle Pulls

You can use a foam roller to target your hamstrings, but it will be a slightly more difficult position than the others that we describe here. If you are looking to do so, we recommend doing so in a seated position using a massage stick to better target the soft tissue of your hamstrings.

  1. Sit on a bench or chair with your feet on the floor. Place a massage stick underneath one thigh. Lean forward slightly over your thigh.
  2. Press your thigh into the seat, applying pressure on the massage ball. Extend your leg and shift your weight to target different areas of your hamstring. Periodically change the massage ball to other parts of your hamstring until you feel all of the tension release.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you no longer feel the tension in your hamstrings.

Note that you can also roll out your hamstrings by sitting on the floor in a position similar to the one that we described to roll out your calves. However, we feel that sitting down and using a massage stick is more effective in releasing tension in this muscle.

7. Target the Abductors to Avoid Groin Injuries

The groin is another area that runners often injure. Rolling out your abductor along your inner thigh can help you avoid these types of injuries.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your left leg extended behind you. Bend your right knee and push your right leg slightly out to the side. Place the foam roller in the groin region of your extended leg.
  2. Shift your weight so that the foam roller moves down towards your knee and back up again. As with the other exercises, take special care to work the tension out of any trigger points that you feel.
  3. Switch sides and repeat until you no longer feel the tension in the area.

Benefits of Foam Rolling for Runners

Many benefits of foam rolling will become evident once you start incorporating this tool into your warmup or cooldown. 

  • Self-Myofascial Release: Foam rolling helps release tension in the fascia, the connecting tissue weaving through your entire body. This release will help improve your circulation and reduce stress.
  • Increases Blood Flow: Foam rolling can improve blood flow to your muscles, helping you get warmed up and ready to work out faster.
  • Improves Range of Motion: This study found that adding foam rolling to your stretches can improve your range of motion and general performance in your workouts. The study noted that foam rolling should come before stretching if you want to see these results.
  • Improves Speed and Flexibility: As foam rolling improves your range of motion, it makes you faster and more flexible, generally improving your running abilities.
  • Comfort: We don't have a fancy word for this one, but foam rolling feels terrific on your sore muscles and provides relief after a tough run. It is one of the best ways to relieve tight spots in large muscles without requiring a visit to a massage therapist.  

Foam Roller Gym Fitness Equipment

Types of Foam Rollers

If you're setting out to find your first foam roller, you will notice there are various options available. There are nearly 20 different types of foam rollers, each with slight variations in material and shape.

Every foam roller will relieve your sore muscles, but different types offer slightly different benefits to the user. We will break down a few of our favorite types of foam rollers so that you can decide which will best fit your needs.

You can find these and other options at major fitness retailers or on Amazon.

  • Low-Density Foam Rollers: We also refer to these as soft foam rollers because they apply less pressure than the higher density and harder options. If you are a beginner, this is probably the foam roller you want to purchase until you are accustomed to this muscle recovery tool.

  • Firm Foam Roller: This standard foam roller offers the most amount of pressure and the most relief for tight muscles. They come in different textures, sizes, and materials.

  • Grid Foam Roller: Grid foam rollers, also called ridged foam rollers, are the most common type of foam roller that you will find in the gym. The foam roller has multiple "grid" areas raised from the surface to target different muscle groups.Grid foam rollers are more versatile than others and provide a good balance between effective relief and potential pain from foam rolling. You can also purchase a trigger point massage ball for a similar effect.

  • Vibrating Foam Roller: Vibrating foam rollers provide a vibrating sensation in addition to the traditional muscle relief of rolling. Most come with a variety of settings that you can select depending on your needs. Vibrating foam rollers are a popular option for anyone missing their massage therapist or for anyone looking for a little more relief than a standard foam roller can provide.

  • Massage Stick: A massage stick is a miniature version of a foam roller, usually bumpy or textured to target different muscle groups better. Massage sticks are helpful when you have difficulty rolling a particular muscle, such as the hamstrings, as we discussed above.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to use your foam roller, it's time to get moving. Pair your foam roller exercises with the PRE-WORKOUT BUNDLE to warm up before hitting the treadmill or cool down after a long run.

Make foam rolling a consistent part of your routine to relieve muscle soreness and get the blood flowing before every run.