No matter how much experience you have as a runner, injuries are going to happen. Whether you are a beginning runner that is plagued with shin splints and runner’s knee, or you are a lifelong runner that has to deal with more serious problems, injury prevention is of vital importance.
Long term runners find that their injuries start as something small and progress more and more as they continue training. Over time, the continuous cycle of injury and repair takes a serious toll on the body. In particular, your thighs and hips are at risk after years of running. That is where foam rollers come into play.
Why Foam Rollers?
Stretching isn’t going to be enough for these kinds of problems. Stretching is great and helps your muscles keep from tearing, but if you have serious muscle knots developing a stretching routine won’t be much help. In these cases, the healthy parts are stretched and the knots stay just where they are.
Foam rollers give them the tough love that is needed to repair it. Direct pressure helps to break up and relieve the muscle knots that you’ve created, although they will require constant attention.
Foam rollers have been used by elite athletes since the 1980’s, but only recently have they become readily available and affordable for the everyday runner. It would be quite nice if we could have a massage every time we went for a run to release those pesky knots, but that luxury is often unrealistic. That is where the foam roller comes in, it is a piece of equipment used to perform self-massage.
A foam roller will be about six inches in diameter and come in a variety of lengths. Using your own body weight, direct pressure can be applied to the knot and you can then roll out the lumps, just like you would roll dough. Repetitive trips to a massage therapist can do this, but a foam roller allows you to save money and do it at home.
How Do You Use It?
Using a foam roller isn’t very difficult and is an easy and affordable way to solve a lot of muscle problems. First, you can roll over the painful and stiff area for about 60 seconds in a back and forth motion. The rolling motion should be slow, no more than one inch per second. When you find a tight spot or knot, pause for several seconds and try to relax the area as much as possible.
Doing this two to three times a day can alleviate the problem, although you’ll have to do this process two to three times a week in the future to prevent future injuries and damage. It is important to do this to the middle of your back, hamstrings, quads, and the sides of your thigh and hip.
Check out this video by Run Well Race Well for an example of how to use a foam roller to reduce running related injuries.
In addition to repairing damage, they will also help prevent future injury. In fact, performing a foam roller routine on a regular basis can improve your performance if you are an otherwise injury free individual. This keeps away the problems that are associated with desk jobs and sitting down for long periods of time. Although runners spend a great deal of time standing and running, they might otherwise work in an office where they are sedentary for the vast majority of the time.
In any case, a foam roller is a great investment. Injuries can affect you for a lifetime, so taking care of them as soon as they arise, preventing future flare ups, and enhancing your overall flexibility are all fantastic ways of making sure that this won’t be a problem for you.
Do Foam Rollers Hurt?
Using a foam roller can sometimes be painful. The massage process is targeting a deep tissue knot which has taken time to form however it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Pausing on the knotted muscle for several seconds and moving over the foam roller at a slow pace should see a decrease in discomfort is between 5-30 seconds.
If you use a foam roller regularly and make sure you have chosen the correct roller for the targeted muscle, your experience should be far less painful.
The Best Foam Rollers for Runners
Standard: Standard Rollers are the simplest of the foam rollers which are great for beginners, but can deform in shape after heavy use.
Typically made from a single piece of polyethylene foam, they are the least dense and the most comfortable to use.
Standard rollers allows for greater movement in the muscles, joints and bones, resulting in less pressure and discomfort when in use.Our pick would be these rollers by Body Sport Medium: Medium Rollers are typically made from polyethylene foam or EVA, and these are more firm that the standard designs which results in greater pressure (for working out those more stubborn knots).
The OPTP Pro Foam Roller is our pick for a medium density roller; its higher durability makes it great for bearing weight, making it a top choice for targeting back muscles. High Density: High density foam rollers apply firm pressure to targeted areas and are typically used by runners who have been using the self-massage technique for some time.
The higher density rollers are less porous and are highly durable making them great for repeated use.
The Eco-Friendly EVA Foam Roller is our pick for a high density roller, offering 13, 18 and 36 inch length options.
Grid Rollers: Grid rollers have indentations along their surface which are great at releasing troublesome knots.
The roller is very dense with little give which results in some discomfort, but is great at releasing the muscles and targeting specific problem areas.
The TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller is our pick and comes with a rigid outer layer ideal for a firmer, more targeted massage. The GRID roller comes in three lengths and two densities.
There is even a mini 4” GRID travel size, great for when you’re travelling for a marathon event.Extreme Grid: The picture of our top choice for Extreme Grid rollers can probably give you an idea of what it’s like to use.
The Extreme Muscle Foam Roller is given a 9 out of 10 for firmness and is not for beginners as the discomfort level is pretty high.
Whilst not for the faint-hearted, those experienced in the use of foam rollers swear by its effectiveness in reducing muscle tightness (if you can stand to use it!)
The design and construction of a foam roller will determine how useful it is in your pre and post-run training program. Starting at standard rollers for those minor pains (or for those runners who are new to using them), the range goes up to Extreme Grid rollers which are aimed at runners looking for a targeted deep tissue massage.
It’s probably best not to go straight for the heavy duty rollers as you might be put off by the discomfort if you’re not used to the technique.