The use of Foam Rollers by runners has increased in popularity in recent years. It is now common to see many runners bringing a Foam Roller to training and races and rolling out muscles before and after the session. The belief is that the Foam Roller acts as a tool for self myo-fascia release, similar to sports massage.

What is fascia?

Fascia is a dense connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, joint and organ in the body. Everything in the body is connected through fascia, including muscle. This fascia is inseparable from the muscle tissue (myo). When working optimally, myo-fascia helps provide support, stability, and movement to our muscles. But muscle fatigue and feeling of tight muscles can be an indicator that the muscle fascia is not working optimally and preventing muscles from moving in the full range. The use of a foam roller can aid in freeing fascia.

What are the benefits of using a foam roller?

  • Increase nutrient-rich blood flow to muscles that need it.
  • Improve the mobility and flexibility of muscles and joints
  • Recover from exercise faster
  • Reduce inflammation and remove toxins/chemical waste products.
  • Longer term, to break down adhesions in muscle and connective tissue.

When should I foam roll? 

  • Before exercise: as part of a warm up, which includes 8-10 minutes of easy running and drills.
  • After exercise: used within a cool-down to help flush out blood that has pooled in muscles and to allow fresh nutrients and oxygen to flow through fatigued muscles

That said, foam rolling should not be at the expense of a good warm up or cool down jog. Many runners spend a long time rolling out muscles before and after exercise when greater benefits are likely to be achieved through a progress warm up. Use as an additional tool and focus on areas you know are troublesome and limit use to only a mater of minutes.

How do I use a foam roller?

One of the main mistakes people make when using a foam roller, particularly when working through calves and hamstrings, can be to try and support their body weight off the ground with their arms. Keep seated and you will be able to roll for longer before your arms give out! Start at the bottom of the muscle and just roll gently over a small defined area of a few centimetres – no need to use long gliding strokes up and down the full muscle. If there are areas of particular sensitivity, knots or adhesions, then firmly press the foam roller on to this spot and hold in place for 45-60 seconds until the sensation reduces, and then roll that area. You can increase the pressure by resting the other leg over the top. Then move the foam roller up to the next area and repeat, working up the full muscle in stages but specifically identifying areas of sensitivity. You should be able to work through one muscle in a matter of minutes to get the benefit of releasing muscle fascia but nor wasting time that could be dedicated to other key aspects of your warm up and cool down procedure.