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The Basics of Foam Rolling


You may have heard of foam rolling—you might even own one of the tube-shaped torture devices—but even then, the questions remain: How long should you roll for? What areas? Where do you start? What does a foam roller even do?

Self-myofascial release, otherwise known as self-massage, is a key component of a runner’s well-rounded recovery routine. It tackles tight muscles and works to increase mobility, flexibility and all-around effectiveness during training.

“If you want to run well, you need to do mobility exercises,” says physical therapist Bryan Hill, co-owner and CEO of Rehab United in San  Diego. “Foam rolling is used by many practitioners for that purpose.”

While there are plenty of massage tools avail-able for post-run indulgence—even tennis balls can do the trick!—a good foam roller is tough enough to dig up the right amount of oomph and effective enough that runners are willing to cringe and roll simultaneously, over and over again. (Don’t worry—it’s never as painful the second time!) Hill recommends five key areas to target when working out kinks.

Related: Tips for Managing Shin Splints

Rules of the Roll
It doesn’t hurt to practice muscle mobility exercises daily, but Hill definitely recommends giving your muscles some extra love after major runs or workouts. Focus on each target area for at least 1 minute (and up to 10 minutes), moving slowly through the motions until you soak up the benefits of sweet release. If you’re a first-timer, pain is still beauty—the more you practice, the less you will cringe in pain as your body adapts to its new form of recovery.

Extra Credit
Need some added release? When you feel a tight spot, pause with your weight resting on that spot until you feel a release. To target pressure on your legs, try flexing your foot and rotating your ankle in circles.

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Caitlyn Pilkington

Caitlyn Pilkington

Caitlyn Pilkington is the web editor for Women's Running. She started running competitively in 2001 and has completed three marathons and tons of half marathons. Her proudest moment as a runner was crossing the finish line of her first marathon in 3:29, qualifying for the 2016 Boston Marathon.