Author: Champion Ultrarunner Jeff Browning
I’ve discovered many tools to keep myself running smoothly over the past 20 years. But one of the most important pieces of maintenance equipment is my veritable quiver of foam rollers. Whether for daily maintenance or targeting a specific area, the foam roller is essential for every runner. Developing the discipline to be aware and stop, drop and roll should be a most-days habit for all.
Consistent rolling helps break down soft-tissue adhesions — the areas where muscle fibers and fascia become glued together, inhibiting the smooth action of muscle fibers. The adhesions reduce muscle-fiber efficiency and won’t allow the muscles to generate as much force. Plus, adhesions limit range of motion, putting strain on the insertion point. This may lead to symptoms of tendinitis and inflammation of connective tissue. Muscles may become generally tight.
Benefits of consistent weekly foam-rolling sessions include the following:
- Improved water and nutrient through the muscles and tissues
- Enhanced pliability and elasticity of the muscle and fascia, thereby increasing blood flow
- Turning on inactive muscles
Daily light foam rolling that targets all the strategic spots is your first line of defense in keeping those pesky niggles at bay. This is the maintenance approach. Although it takes some discipline, if done regularly it’s effective for keeping muscles supple before adhesions build up. The key to this daily approach is a light hit-it-all method. The idea is to lightly roll all the main areas: mid/low back, hips, hamstrings, adductors, quads, and lower legs (including calves and the front of the shin and even the bottom of your feet). This daily habit can be a great way to up your odds of warding off general tightness that tends to compound over time.
Sometimes tightness and soreness in certain muscle groups can get a bit out of control. You need to get on top of the impending issue. This is where the deeper, heavier rolling session is appropriate. A deep rolling session is like getting a deep tissue massage. Take the time to breathe and work through very sore, tight adhesions. Try to relax and imagine your muscle melting over the foam roller and not tensing up. If you cannot relax, back off on the pressure. This is not an everyday rolling strategy, but a more targeted approach. Limit these sessions of dedicated extra time and pressure to break up problem spots by cross-frictioning the muscle fibers. This method involves rolling or rocking back and forth perpendicular to the muscle fibers to help break up those extra sore spots (i.e., muscle fiber adhesions). Make sure you take at least a day off rolling following a heavy rolling session. And be sure to hydrate well. Similar to a deep tissue massage, these targeted sessions require some additional healing time.
Foam rollers come in all shapes and sizes. From soft to firm, and smooth to contoured, there are a variety of textures and many unique shapes. I’ve found it’s ideal to have an array of rollers in order to trigger specific areas. There are three rollers I use consistently: a traditional cylinder type, a 4-5” ball, and a rolling stick. This is my minimum recommended quiver, though they are by no means the only rollers of significant value. The important thing to remember is that consistency is key. Supple up so you can giddyup!
About the Author
Jeff Browning is a veteran ultra runner and coach. His favorite foam roller is the Pro-Tec Orb Extreme. He uses it for trigger point work on road trips, stashes in his carry-on while traveling and routinely rolls out his posterior chain during family movie night. You can learn more about him, his adventure and his coaching at GoBroncoBilly.com or Instagram: @GoBroncoBilly