A Beginner’s Guide to Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a popular and effective self-massage tool for athletes. Here's your complete guide to doing it properly.

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When I first started running in college, I was a 200-pound ex-football player. On those first runs, I looked and felt like an arthritic rhino. I will never forget is just how terrible running can be at first. It gets better, then it gets amazing, then it gets transcendent—but at first, everything hurts.

I went through the progression of maladies. My shins got angry, my knees got irritated, my feet were furious. I ran through it all, until my hip attacked with wrathful vengeance. The ball joint locked up and clicked. I couldn’t move my leg.

When my physical therapist found out I didn’t use a foam roller, she said something I will never forget: “If you want to be a runner, commit to foam rolling every day for the rest of your life.”

I bought a foam roller, made myself squeal, and the pain went completely away in three days. I was converted.

Now, I am a 140-pound weakling, but I still use the foam roller every day. I honestly think foam rolling should be taught in schools.

But it’s not taught in schools. So here is a quick tutorial.

Foam Roller 101

Buy the hardest foam roller you can find (most simple models are between $10 and $30). Then, use it after your run every day for 5 to 10 minutes.

I instruct my athletes to use it while watching TV at night, starting a stopwatch and staying accountable to roller time. As an added bonus, most small children, dogs and cats view that as a great time for floor wrestling.

In no particular order, foam-roll these areas: IT bands, quadriceps, hip flexors, groin/inner thigh, calves, shins, butt and low back. Not sure how, exactly, to roll out each of these areas? Here’s a quick video tutorial.

Spend time with your foam roller, and you’ll be spending more time on the trails. Roll it, so you can rock it!

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.

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