Foam Rolling

Sports massage is an area often over looked by runners. It costs money, it’s hard to fit into your work, life, training balance and it can really hurt!! But the benefits of sports massage are second to none and in this case there really is no gain without pain. Sports massage helps to break down scar tissue, increase circulation, increase flexibility/mobility, remove waste products from the muscle tissue, and improve tissue elasticity.

Now if you are doing a high volume of running/training weekly I would strongly recommend that you get a professional sports massage fortnightly. This can be costly but it is well worth the money for performance and recovery, to get the most out of your running and prevent injury.

Hands work best and are able to get into those hard to reach areas but if time is tight and funds are low then foam rolling offers a really useful cost effective alternative.

In the following article I will be focussing on these four questions; What is a Foam Roller? What does it do? How do I use it? How can this assist my running?

What is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a long cylindrical piece of hard foam which comes in a variety of different sizes. You can purchase varying densities to progress through to a more intense deep tissue massage. Those new to foam rolling or with particularly tight muscles should start on a slightly softer foam roller.

To isolate certain areas more effectively you can also progress to the use of a tennis ball, rolling in exactly the same way but over a much smaller surface area. For use on the back stand against a wall, place the ball between you and the wall and move around rolling out your target area.

Rolling your foot across the top of a tennis ball is almost as good as a foot massage and it serves the same purpose of increasing the circulation and working out tight muscles in your feet. It can also help to loosen your hamstrings. To do this, place the tennis ball on the floor and roll along the length of your foot as well as side to side. You can do this standing up or sitting down, both offer differing amounts of pressure.

What does it do?

Foam rolling, also known as Self Massage or Self Myofascial Release (SMR), breaks up trigger points, knots, or areas of increased muscle density. It stretches out the muscles and tendons and breaks down scar tissue. It also soothes tight fascia which increases blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.

Fascia tissue is the name given to the tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Over time due to disuse, not enough stretching or injuries the fascia and muscle tissue can get stuck together causing restricted muscle movement, thus causing pain, soreness and reduced flexibility.

Foam Rolling uses sustained pressure on the soft tissues which results in softening and lengthening of the fascia.

How do I use it?

With the foam roller on the floor, place your body on the foam roller and slowly roll up and down for about 30-60 seconds along the muscle group you are targeting. If you find a particularly tight area, pause on that spot. Putting pressure on a tight area can help release the tissue.

If you do find a particularly tight spot it will be painful but don’t be afraid to put the pressure on. In time the pain will ease and if done often enough it may go altogether.

How can this assist my running?

Using a foam roller can provide similar benefits to a deep tissue massage. By increasing flexibility and decreasing muscle tension it can help prevent injury and improve performance. This technique has been known to relieve various muscle and joint pains associated with running, including IT band syndrome and shin splints.

Rolling can be equally effective pre and post running. Foam rolling before a run can help provide a more effective warm up by increasing blood flow to the muscles, thus increasing mobility and flexibility. Rolling after a workout can help aid recovery in much the same way.

Here are the main areas you should consider rolling when running;

Gluteal muscles

Gluteal muscle image

Iliotibial band

Iliotibial band image


quadriceps image


Hamstring image


claves image

Upper back

Upper back image

Lower back

lower back image

About the author

Hannah developed a passion for fitness from a very young age which led her to compete in a wide range of sports including netball and athletics, where she trained and competed for several years. She graduated from Oxford Brookes University in 2009 with a Degree in Health, Exercise & Nutrition, during which she gained experience in the fitness testing of elite athletes including Cyclists and Triathletes.

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