During marathon training, I set aside about 15-20 minutes a day, every day, for a session with my foam roller and self-massage tools. When the mileage increases and long runs and speed workouts are in full swing, muscles tend to tighten and beg for attention. Since paying for a regular massage can be cost prohibitive (unfortunately!), it is up to us to take care of treating our muscles to some myofascial release. I strongly believe this should be a part of every runner’s training regimen. It makes a big difference and a little tender loving care goes a long way!
The foam roller is a large cylindrical piece of high-density foam. When you “roll” your muscles across the foam it serves to loosen tissues and break up any adhesions or scarring in the fascia. Merriam-Webster defines fascia as “a sheet of connective tissue covering or binding together body structures (as muscles).” In more relatable terms, it’s the tissue that holds groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves together, much like plastic wrap.
When we have tight muscles, the fascia becomes less like plastic wrap (which is soft and conforms to the contents it is holding) and more like a hard rubbery material. Tight muscles inhibit mobility and can sometimes cause problems with gait as well as create discomfort. Therefore, it is important to massage it out to loosen things up to restore pliability. The foam roller is perfect for this. The rolling action pumps blood out of and then back into the area and sort of kneads the muscle (like a giant rolling pin), loosening things up.
There are also other types of self-massage tools. One of my favorites is the Tiger Tail – a stick with a layer of foam (similar to the foam on the foam roller) that spins on the stick and can be pressed and rolled over a muscle. It facilitates the same results as the large foam roller, but I find it is more helpful for smaller areas like the bottom of the feet, the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles.
My regular routine includes rolling out my hamstrings, calves, quads, IT bands, bottoms of my feet, glutes and hips every night–rolling over each muscle group about 5-10 times, depending on the tightness. If I have an area that is especially tight, I will spend more time there, sometimes using my Rumble Roller (which has tire tread-like bumps on it) or a tennis or racquetball on those spots.
It can hurt and doesn’t always feel so good in the moment! But, like a good run, I never regret making the time to roll out my muscles and always feel better when I am done!