Foam Rolling in Runners

Foam rolling is widely used in runners for recovery, injury prevention,and in some cases even to improve short term performance. However, some people doubt the benefits of foam rolling and consider it more of a gimmick than a useful tool. This article will look at some of the evidence for using foam rollers and will give advice on the best uses of one.

Strenuous exercise is known to result in micro-trauma and an increase in waste products. As a result of this, massage has been used to reduce these effects and speed up the recovery process. Foam-rollers were therefore introduced to allow people to do this themselves without any external masseur/physio. However, they have become very popular in all sports, including running. There are now many types available and the uses have also changed,with some people using them multiple times per day and others using them directly before competition to try and improve their performance.

In terms of immediate increase in sports performance, studies have shown that foam rolling has no positive effect when used as part of a warm up/preparation routine. (Healy et al 2011). The same study also found reduced fatigue measures in patients that spent 30 seconds per major muscle group foam rolling after exercise. There are multiple studies showing similar results. There is very little reliable evidence for foam rolling as a pre-competition performance enhancer, but multiple studies supporting the use of foam rolling for recovery and post exercise self-massage. Better than that though, there is also a lot of evidence to show that foam rolling, when used regularly and efficiently can increase the healing time of injuries. Ebrahim (2013) found that foam rolling every day in athletes with hamstring injuries decreased stem cell production, increased growth hormone secretion and overall healing time compared to athletes that didn’t foam roll. It also found that these parameters were even more improved if foam rolling was used alongside increased vitamin E intake.

From clinical experience, as well as reading the research around this, it seems the best time to foam roll if possible is within 20 minutes post – exercise. However, foam rolling alone, without exercising first has still been proven to be beneficial(Robertson, 2008). The most benefit seems to come from rolling the major muscle groups, rather than trying to specifically roll on obscure/smaller muscles such as gluteus medius, or the peroneal tendons. Instead, it is more advisable to roll regularly on the quadriceps, the lateral leg and ITB, the hamstrings, and the back. It is possible to be much more inventive with a foam roller, and you are not likely to cause any damage, or have any negative effects. However, for regular self treatment, sticking to the big movements has been shown to be most beneficial.


For the most benefit try to keep your feet off the ground, so that all your weight goes through the roller. Then use your arms in a plank position to roll forwards and backwards. To start with try 2x12 rolls at a slow pace.


Again, keep your feet off the ground to increase the weight through the roller. Lie on your side, as straight as possible and roll from left to right over the roller. If you have not used this technique before, you will find it sore. Start with 2x12 each side.

If you find it hard to keep the feet off the ground, put one foot on the floor and use it as a pivot (as shown):


Sit with hands behind you, and legs elevated on the roller. Pivot on hands, and roll forwards and backwards Start with 2x12 again.


Lie on the floor with roller in the middle of the spine and roll over it, so that your head and shoulders hit the floor, then your bum and hips hit the floor Again, start with 2 or 3 sets of 12.

You may choose to start using a foam roller just for injury related purposes. For example, you may have lateral knee bursitis and be told to lengthen and treat your ITB. Similarly, you may have patellar tendonitis and be told to roll/lengthen your quads as much as possible. However, try to get obsessed with just one body, whether you feel you need it or not, it is much better to give all the major muscle groups a similar treatment than just focus on one, and risk developing an imbalance. If injury is the reason for you to start foam rolling, and it works, then KEEP DOING IT! There is so much evidence supporting regular foam rolling, that it is very likely to reduce future injuries if you make it a part of your routine.


Ebrahim,Amany Waheed, and Abeer Waheed Abd Elghany. “The effect of foam rollerexercise and Nanoparticle in speeding of healing of sport injuries.” Journal of American Science 6 (2013): 9.

Healey,K., et al. “The effects of foam rolling on myofascial release andperformance.” The Journalof Strength & Conditioning Research 25(2011): S30-S31.

Mike Robertson, MS,CSCS(2008): self-Myofascial Release Purpose, Methods and

Techniques.Training Systems, 47: 5-9.