When, How, and Why to Use a Foam Roller as a Runner

Training for my first marathon is what finally sold me on the benefits of consistent foam rolling. Ramping up the mileage significantly was a challenge and my body was feeling it. My hamstrings, IT bands, calves, even the bottom of my feet were tight and sore and generally complaining about all the miles. 

I’m not the most flexible person to start with and this training plan had me hobbled and walking like an elderly man after two weeks. My muscles were tight. If I was going to finish the plan and not miss any workouts something had to change. I didn’t have the cash for a professional massage each week, but I did have ten bucks for a foam roller. 


That ten bucks saved my race and probably my IT bands as well. After just a couple sessions, I could already see (I could walk up and down stairs again!) and feel the difference. Staying dedicated to the foam rolling helped me get to the start line injury-free and finish that first marathon.

Using a foam roller is a form of self-massage. When you roll, you are massaging the tissues (myofascial) that surround and support the muscles in your body. The soreness and tightness you feel is typically from specific points within your myofascial tissues called “trigger points.” The goal of foam rolling is loosening up the tensions in those trigger points.

Along with targeting tight trigger points, foam rolling can help by:

  • Enhancing circulation and blood flow to aid recovery of sore muscles
  • Breaking up scar tissue
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving range of motion


Will it hurt?

Foam rolling is sort of like jumbo shrimp. If you’ve never used a roller before, the first few times are probably not going to be pleasant. But it shouldn’t be a huge amount of pain. You don’t want to try to roll through an injury. It should be uncomfortable. It’s going to take some time to soften and loosen those muscles.

You might also like:  On Tapering, Carb-loading and Race Planning


when and how to do foam rolling as a runner

When should you do it?

You can do it before or after. Typically it is used after a workout. The final step to kickstart recovery and leave you feeling relaxed after a workout. 

You can do it before a workout as part of a dynamic warm-up to loosen up but don’t overdue it. You don’t want to feel too relaxed going into a workout or race.


How do you do it?

 Let’s not overthink this! Roll back and forth for 30 seconds to a minute over each muscles group. Don’t go too fast (most common mistake). Go slow and steady with a gentle amount of pressure to start before increasing it at all. Don’t forget to breathe. If you find a tight trigger point, pause on it and try to relax.

A daily, or post-workout, rolling habit should hit all the major muscle groups and be completed in about 10 minutes.

You might also consider using a tennis ball, golf ball, or lacrosse ball for hard to roll areas like: 

  • Hamstrings
  • Hips
  • Hip Flexors
  • Arch / Plantar Fascia


As I’ve gotten older and strive to remain active with knee arthritis, foam rolling and staying flexible has become even more important part of my exercise routine. Even if you aren’t a master’s athlete (yet – it happens to everyone!) foam rolling can be a prominent and helpful part of your running or training plan. It can improve recovery, make you feel better, and help you prevent nagging injuries. Not bad for 10 buck and 10 minutes a day.



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