How to Use a Foam Roller for Injury Prevention in Running

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Foam roller - injury prevention in running

 

Roll Those Injuries Away!

It all started on a chilly evening in early December 2012.  A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join him in a track workout where he was planning to do a 12 x 200 meter interval session with each repeat being 3-4 seconds faster than 5k race pace.  Thinking I could use the leg turnover, I happily responded, “Sure I’ll join you!”

We did less than a mile and a half of warm-up (should have done at least 2 miles) and then hit the dirt track at a local middle school.  The first 7 repeats felt pretty good but then I felt a slight twinge in my lower right hamstring on the eighth rep.  As I continued to push, it got worse so after 8 repeats, my workout was finished.

What was I thinking by doing 200 meter repeats in chilly weather without a proper warm-up?  Part of the reason I shortened my warm-up was to get started with the workout before we ran out of daylight.  I paid the price for that mistake.

For the next couple months, I continued to re-aggravate this injury anytime I would push the pace below 6:45 per mile pace.  It was frustrating to say the least.  I finally decided to visit a massage therapist that a friend of mine recommended.  Pam lived up to her reputation of making grown men cry as she worked on numerous stubborn areas, especially in my legs.  Pam said I was as stiff as anyone she had worked on.  As she put it, “It’s like you’re running on boards!”  That’s pretty stiff.

It was then that she asked me if I ever used a foam roller, to which I replied no.  She said it would be one of the best investments I could make, especially considering all the stiffness my body was carrying.

 

Why a Foam Roller Helps Runners

Over time, running can create overuse injuries and tight muscles.  If these aren’t addressed, it can create pain that prevents us from doing what we love which is putting one foot in front of the other on a daily basis.

A good foam roller can help iron out areas that have become tight.  We all have trouble areas where knots can develop.  By taking a foam roller and targeting these knots, we allow our muscles to have a more full range of motion.  Think of a knot in a rope.  When you remove the knot, you lengthen the rope.  For every knot you add to the rope, you shorten it.  You want your muscles to have their full range of motion when running, otherwise, those knots can progress to muscle strains or even muscle tears.

Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way by enduring a lower hamstring strain that lingered for over three months before I finally turned a corner.  For some people, their injury may occur in the calves.  Others may experience pain in their ITB (illiotibial band).  Regardless of where the pain crops up, tight muscles can lead to a chain reaction where various parts of the body carry too much load and finally give us a warning signal.  It’s when we continue to ignore these warnings that injuries occur.

Common areas to work on with a foam roller include…

  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • ITB
  • Quads
  • Gluteus muscles (aka “glutes”)

 

How to Use a Foam Roller

In the video below, running coach, CJ Hitz, will show you how to use his favorite foam roller to address the ITB, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.

 

 

My Favorite Foam Roller

best foam rollerIn my opinion, Trigger Point Performance Therapy makes the best quality foam roller on the market.  I happen to own “The Grid” version of their foam roller which offers even more targeted massage action with the grooves and grid pattern on the roller.  This matrix pattern also helps increase circulation.

Trigger Point also makes a “Grid Mini” which is the most travel friendly foam roller on the market and easily attaches to any gym bag, backpack, or can fit inside your suitcase.  On the bigger end of the spectrum, they also offer “The Grid 2.0” which is double the size of the standard Grid foam roller.

 

Conclusion

If you can get into the habit of rolling out those trouble areas once a day, or at least every other day, you’ll be on your way to nipping potential injuries in the bud before they rear their ugly heads.  Some runners prefer to use the foam roller immediately after a run.  I prefer to use it before going to bed along with a ten minute routine of exercises I do to end my day.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get rolling!

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