A blog by runners. For runners.

Roll out: the basics of foam rolling

Deep tissue massage can release tightness and muscular adhesions that prevent us from running our best. However, most of us do not have the money or the time for a weekly massage.

Enter the foam roller.

This piece of styrofoam is a cost-effective alternative to deep tissue massage and can help you avoid injury.

What is foam rolling?

A styrofoam roller of various sizes can be used as a form of deep tissue massage of large muscles groups such as the quads, hamstrings, glutes, trunk extensors, and ankle flexors and extensors. It can be used as often as several times per day or as little as once per week.

How does it work? You place the foam roller under the muscle group you want to work and just roll. (We link to a video below.)

How long should I foam roll?

It depends on the tightness of your muscles. In general, roll for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat until you feel you muscles — or a specific tight knot — loose. Concentrate on any tight (or achy areas).

How do I pick a foam roller?

If you plan on using your roller quite often, once per day or more, you should purchase a roller that is made of black dense styrofoam. This type of foam is highly durable and will last you much longer than a white or light colored foam roller.

What size foam roller do I need?

If you find that during running your lower legs and hip flexors tend to be the most tight, you do not need to purchase a long foam roller. In addition, if you are carrying your foam roller along in your gym bag, you may want to purchase a smaller one.

However, if you find that your low back, mid back, or upper back tend to get tight, you may want to purchase a foam roller that is at least 36 inches or 90 centimeters. This will ensure that you can fit your entire trunk with arms crossed on the roller.

What is the cheapest foam rolling option?

In a sporting goods store, a foam roller can run at least $30 so if you are on a budget, you may just want to hit up your local craft store and purchase a foam roll there. Just as good, but it may need to be replaced more frequently. Try one at the craft store first, and then track how long it lasts to find out which option is best suited for your budget.

When should I replace my foam roller?

Once the styrofoam starts to degrade it is important to replace your roller because it will no longer have the same effect at releasing tension. This is often noted by a sagging that occurs in the middle of the roller. Also, on a black roller, you can start to see white specks peering through the black in the area that is most used.

When do I ditch the foam roller and get a massage?

If you have been using your foam roller consistently for several weeks and the tightness and discomfort you have noticed is not going away, it is best to seek the advice of a trained massage therapist. Also, if your tightness tends to be mostly in your feet, you may want to abandon the foam roller and use a tennis ball or get a massage to target the tiny intrinsic muscles of the foot.

We’ll be providing a video of foam rolling exercises in the near future but for now, here’s a great link to a few foam rolling exercises.

How often do you foam roll?

Written by Danielle Bressoud.