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A Runner’s Guide to Foam Rollers

The reason I initially started using a foam roller was because a high level trainer who is a close friend recommended I try self-myofascial release for managing injuries while training for a marathon.

At that time I had a lot of questions - What’s the best foam roller for a runner? Which exercises should I be doing? Should I be using my foam roller daily, only after workouts or some other frequency? What can I expect when I use a roller?

Fortunately, I was speaking directly with a trainer who has worked with professionals at the highest levels and has completed ultra marathons and triathlons.

My goal is to take the information I’ve learned over the past several years from both my good friend and my own research and construct an easy to digest article.

Self Myofascial Release: An Athletes A Runner’s Best Friend

I typically use a foam roller three or four times a week before and after a workout. In my non-scientific opinion I found the most benefit while training for a marathon. It’s possible that I loved my foam roller more then usual because I was training a lot harder and working out more frequently.

That said, I think foam rollers are most beneficial when used to roll out the lower body. The reason is pretty simple, you’re legs make up some of the largest muscles in your body. Generally speaking, foam rollers are more effective when you’re targeting large muscles.

Running is lower body intensive, so it makes logical sense that there would be more benefit post run then after an upper body workout.

If you are a runner and you’ve never tried using a foam roller you are missing out.

Choosing the Best Foam Roller for a Runner

Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some rollers will break down in a few months, others will last you a life time.

First I want to highlight some of the foam rollers I would absolutely avoid.

The Worst Foam Rollers for Runners

EVA Foam Rollers

These are the cheapest option for a reason. If you’re extremely light you might get away with rolling on one of these for four or five months before it begins to deform. Once that happens the quality of your foam rolling routine will plummet.

If you're a runner, you should be rolling a lot! EVA foam rollers work well for other people, just not runners.​

Rumble Roller

The rumble roller is pretty expensive and it is incredibly awkward. The spikes, which are designed to penetrate deep layers of tissue make it fairly difficult to roll. And unless you have a high pain tolerance or have been using foam rollers for a long time they’re not very practical.

A rumble roller hurts to the point where it impacts my routine in a negative way. Not to mention it’s a terrible device for warming up.

Travel Roller

I actually like the Travel Roller, it’s one of the most effective compact foam rollers. So why is it on this list?

Compact rollers are not as effective as a full size one. If you run several times a week you’re going to be spending some quality time with your foam roller. Invest in a full size, and if you do travel a lot pick up a Travel Roller as a portable option.

The Best Foam Roller for Runners – The Grid 2.0

In my opinion, the grid is the best foam roller on the market. It’s durable, solid and has a range of densities and textures on each roller.

Unlike some of the cheaper rollers it doesn’t deform under my two hundred pound frame. It’s 26”, which I actually prefer over the standard 36” roller. Both lengths work terrific, one just has an unnecessary 12”.

The one draw back is the price point. It is not the cheapest foam roller (in fact it’s one of the more expensive rollers). That said I can easily justify the expense. I look at my Grid 2.0 the same way I view my shoes and water bottle – the only essential pieces of equipment.

I haven’t had a chance to try it, but Trigger Point just released the grid X Extra Firm roller which is 13” roller which is twice as firm as the original.

A Cheap Foam Roller for Runners – High Density EPE

Sometimes you’ll see these referred to as molded polyethylene foam or simply as a high-density foam roller.

These are far cheaper than the Grid 2.0 and while they may not be as awesome they’ll get the job done. They should last a year before they begin to lose their shape. Of course, this is dependent on how frequently you’re using your foam roller.

A Runner’s Foam Rolling Routine

I like to spend time on my roller before AND after a run. If I had to guess 85% of users only pick their roller up after their run.

Pre-Run Routine

The pre-run routine serves as an amazing warm up. The goal of a warm up is to elevate the heart rate, activate muscles and get the blood circulating. Going through a five or ten minute warm up on a roller ticks all of the boxes. Unlike my post run routine I won’t pause or try to hit trigger points.

This is pretty simple; I start at the bottom and work my way up.

I also spend some extra time on my feet and my hips. Those are my problem areas and need a little bit extra TLC.

  • Feet
  • Shins
  • Calves
  • IT Band
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Hips
  • Glutes

For my feet I actually use a foot roller or a lacrosse ball. I also prefer a smaller roller for my hips.

Post-Run Routine

After my run I’ll spend twenty minutes rolling and stretching. Because running isn’t an explosive activity I can understand not taking the time to always warm up. You can ease yourself into a jog and warm up that way.

I never skip my post workout routine, it’s too important for injury prevention and recovery. I do the exact same routine, but in the reverse order. I also spend longer, pausing on trigger points and generally moving at a slower pace.

  • Butt
  • Hips
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • IT Band
  • Calves
  • Shins
  • Feet

My trainer would always encourage me to really notice the difference in mobility pre and post run. After a workout, you'll notice you're more flexible. This is one reason he always told me basic movement is one of the best ways to increase flexibility and mobility.

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