It used to be that all you needed to hit the pavement was a good pair of running shoes and a water bottle. But with more and more research coming out about the benefits of rolling out muscles, one thing is certain: A foam roller is a must-have for any serious runner. Here's why, and how to get the most from your foam-rolling practice.
The 4 health benefits of foam rolling for runners
1. It improves your mobility
Research in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy shows that rolling out muscles can increase your joints' range of motion. That means you can move during your workouts with better, freer form.
It's thought that rolling makes this happen by breaking up adhesions or "trigger points" in your muscles' fascia. This fascia is a sort of casing for your muscles and connects to your tendons, ligaments, and joints. By improving your fascial flexibility, you allow your joints to work their best.
2. It lowers your risk of injury
This increase in joint function can have a big impact on your risk of running injury. After all, most overuse injuries come down to poor exercise form — and resulting compensations. By helping your body move, jog, and sprint as designed, foam rolling can help protect your joints, connective tissues, and muscles from wear and tear.
3. It makes your runs feel easier
According to The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, people report that exercise feels easier when they warm up with foam rolling. While improved mobility and better form likely play a part, research from Sports Medicine shows that after rolling, muscles produce force with greater ease and less effort.
4. It reduces muscle soreness
The benefits of rolling extend long after your workouts, too. According to the Journal of Athletic Training, rolling out muscles at the end of a workout can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — that ache you get a couple of days after a tough workout.
4 rules of rolling out muscles
1. Focus on your muscles
Rolling out your muscles is for just that, your muscles. During your sessions, avoid applying pressure to joints like your knees or elbows, as this could cause more harm than good.
Also, avoid rolling your organs. For example, when rolling your back, stick to your middle and upper back, where your internal organs are protected by your ribs. Rolling your lower back could apply excessive pressure to your kidneys. Meanwhile, rolling the front of your abdomen could inflame your stomach and intestines.
2. Skip your IT band
Yes, this could fall under the first rule, but it bears special mention: Do not roll your IT band (short for iliotibial band). On the outside of your thigh, this is a thick band of tissue that connects your hip to your knee.
While there's no data showing that rolling out your IT band can actually lengthen it, loosening this supportive, structural tissue could decrease joint support. Meanwhile, it's possible that rolling your IT band could aggravate or inflame it, causing swelling and pain.
3. Divide and conquer
When rolling out muscles, think in thirds, dividing the muscle that you're rolling into three segments: bottom, middle, and top.
Slowly roll each section before moving on to the next one. Then, work the entire muscle in long, slow passes.
4. Make frequency your friend
The more often you can foam roll, the better. That's because the benefits of rolling muscles are temporary. You need to repeat the practice to keep the good vibes, well, rolling.
Make it a goal to spend about five minutes before and after each workout foam rolling. As you build a habit, try to roll every day — even on rest days. This will help you recover and feel your best, 24/7. Happy rolling!
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.