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If this was right outside your window, would you go run on the treadmill?

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If the answer is yes, well – you are a stronger woman than I!  But for me, the answer was a sunny, Pina Colada drenched NO.  I ran once on our cruise vacation for a grand total of 2.0 miles, despite packing many workout outfits. Hey, at least I had good intentions.  But I really let half marathon training slide while on our trip.  Thanks to lots of exploring and playing, I stayed fairly active, but formal workouts were few and far between.

 

I jumped back on the bandwagon with a gusto when we got home.  I did a little over 5.0 miles on Sunday and 4.5 yesterday.  I was surprised at how sore I felt yesterday – like I had ran 10 miles the day before!  I felt so confused – a week off isn’t ideal, but I shouldn’t have felt so out of shape.  That’s when I realized… my foam rolling did me in.

 

You see, I’ve been trying really hard to foam roll regularly.  I was inspired by an article that I recently read in the USAT Triathlon magazine about how some professional triathlete spends many hours a week stretching and rolling.  With that, I decided to go from, “Oh, I’ll foam roll every now and then,” to a dedicated roller as I prepare for this half.  I’ve been great about it – rolling before and after runs regularly.  But on Sunday night, I rolled a bit TOO hard with TOO much enthusiasm.  At the time, it felt painfully good, but afterwards… it was just painful.  My muscles felt blasted!  Hence my sluggish run.

 

This experience came at a perfect time; I was just wrapping up research on foam rolling for a blog post.  I’ve plowed through studies and websites and interviewed a few of my personal training friends to compose this post.  I wanted to explore how to roll, when to roll, and whether you can roll too hard, which I – of course – personally discovered the answer to this week.  So, without further adieu, here are answers to five burning questions about foaming rolling. 

foam rolling Q&A

The idea behind foam rolling is that, by applying pressure to your muscles and tendons, you speed healing, reduce soreness, create elasticity and flexibility, and allow for freedom of movement. The rolling movement and pressure softens and releases tight fascia and sends blood and oxygen to your muscles.  It’s kind of like a deep tissue massage that you can do to yourself.

foam roller

Trainer Josh Stolz told the Huffington Post that you can "think of foam rolling as a way to ‘smooth’ or ‘iron out’ the connective tissue and muscle. Foam rolling actually increases circulation so the connective tissue and muscle are getting more oxygen and water than if you just stretched." (Source)

 

When should I foam roll?

 

While some of the personal trainers that I spoke with said it’s better to foam roll after workouts, several said that you should foam roll BEFORE and AFTER workouts.  Anecdotally, the Husband has been foam rolling both before and after his long runs (he did 7 miles with me the other day – a record for him!), and he has been experiencing much less soreness than he did when he only rolled after.

 

How should I foam roll?

 

Consensus on this question was clear:  You should drink water before and after rolling, roll in multiple directions, and seriously slow down your roll.  Don’t rush!

 

To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight. You should roll slowly, no more than one inch per second.When you find areas that are tight or painful, pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible. You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after 5-30 seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen. If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area. – Jeff Kuhland on BreakingMuscle.com.

 

Can I foam roll too hard?

 

Of course, I speak from experience when I say, “YES!”  But others agree, too.  There is too much of a good thing.  Foam rolling shouldn’t be extremely painful, and if you’re terribly sore the next day, you may have rolled too hard.  You can literally bruise your muscles by hard rolling.

 

It’s easy to irritate certain parts of the body, like the IT band.   Foam rolling is often prescribed as a cure for IT band syndrome, but it’s a sensitive spot to begin with, and you can quickly go from healing to hurting if you roll to hard or too often.  If you already have an injury, definitely check with a physical therapist before foam rolling it.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS), liac crest, Gluteus medius, Tensor fascia latae, Gluteus maximus,Vastus lateralis, Iliotibial band, Tibia tubercle, Patella, Inflammation of the iliotibial band (ITB) causes outer knee pain and possible pain in the hip, MendMeShop TM  ©2011

Also, every personal trainer that I spoke with or read from said that you should never, ever roll directly over bone or joints.

 

Do I have to buy a foam roller or are there alternatives?

 

I hate the act of foam rolling (balancing myself and using my body weight – ugh!) so I use The Stick.  Now, I can “roll” on the couch while I watch TV (lazy alert!).  A similar device would be the Muscletrac.  Cheaper (or free!) alternatives include PVC pipe, firm pool noodles, foam kiddie baseball bats, water bottles, and tennis balls.

 

Here’s a great video on how to make your own foam roller:

Does foam rolling really work?

 

There is more research about the impact of foam rolling in the short-term than the long-term.  Basically, short-term studies support the idea that foam rolling increases blood flow and improves range of motion, among other athletic benefits.

 

One study  found that, “The results show that 30 seconds of foam rolling on each of the lower-limbs and back had no effect on performance… [however,] post-foam rolling fatigue measures were significantly less than [control] fatigue measures…. The reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements.”  This study found that foam rolling had the immediate effect of reducing arterial stiffness and improving vascular endothelial function.  This result was short-lived, but researchers did say that foam rolling could be regularly used by the general population to promote healthy cardiovascular function.  This study concluded that an “acute bout” of foam rolling on the quadriceps enhances knee joint range of motion without limiting muscle performance.  This means that foam rolling was shown to promote flexibility.  This study found that static stretching may temporarily reduce your muscular power; foam rolling does not have the same effect.   (It’s important to note that most of these studies were small and very short-term.)

 

Do you foam roll regularly?  Which device do you use?  Do you feel that it improves athletic performance and reduces injuries or do you just like the idea of a free self-massage? Smile

{ 32 comments }

 

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  • Sara @ LovingOnTheRun January 21, 2014, 2:08 pm

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE foam rolling and I try to do it daily. The one thing I have learned about foam rolling is that certain injuries can actually be irritated worse by foam rolling. I had a piriformis injury last year and kept foam rolling and could not figure out why it was not getting any better! Then I realized the foam rolling was making it worse. I took two days off from rolling and it was better! I think it is great for every day soreness but you do have to be careful when dealing with an injury.

    Reply
  • Barbara January 21, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Is it OK to foam roll every day? I’ve been having patellar pain and my PT suggested foam rolling, which I did not do very often as a 40-mile/week runner (bad, me!) I’ve been rolling every day but I’ve been wondering if there is a point when its not beneficial anymore and maybe I do it too often? This post is so timely, thanks!

    Reply
    • Caitlin January 21, 2014, 2:17 pm

      I would definitely ask your PT if you have an injury. But based on what I’ve read, it sounds like many trainers would say you can, as long as you don’t go too hard and perhaps don’t always focus on the same part of your body. But I would definitely check with your PT because it’s so specific.

      Reply
  • Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork January 21, 2014, 2:25 pm

    I am a pretty big proponent of foam rolling. I have recently started doing it both before and after (as opposed to just after) and have definitely found that I’m less sore and my body feels looser.

    You definitely have to be careful with overdoing it. I’ve done that to my plantar fascia with a FootRubz ball. Harder isn’t always better and can result in inflammation! As you point out, you do also need to be careful about getting too close to joints. When I had an IT band issue last year, it would really hurt if I got too close to where it went over the hip. Not good.

    I also LOVE The Stick. I love it so much I wrote a post on it! My new favorite is a lacrosse ball that I use on my glutes and plantar fascia.

    Reply
  • Shannon January 21, 2014, 2:27 pm

    Thanks for your post! When I first got ITBS I saw a lot on the internet about foam rolling, but I did find the amount of information overwhelming, so I really appreciate the way you summed everything up. I ended up getting a standard one and using it multiple times daily, if not just because it felt kind of weirdly good on my tender IT band.

    Now that I’m mostly cured of ITBS, I usually get out the foam roller after long runs as a way to assess if my IT band is tender at all, and if so, I’ll roll it out a little. But I definitely don’t do it every day anymore!

    Reply
  • Abi@AbsofSteel January 21, 2014, 2:27 pm

    I was super sore the day after my first real foam rolling session. Now that i’ve been doing it consistently I don’t get sore anymore and I do find it helps me a lot. I find that rolling out the muscles inadvertently helps relieve tension in the joints.

    Reply
  • nancy January 21, 2014, 2:35 pm

    As a Licensed Massage Therapist and mom of three teenage athletes, get a foam roller and learn how to use it. Listen to your body and be sure to differentiate between “hurts so good” and genuine injury. You can use a massage ball or lacrosse ball to do more focused work on larger muscles such as glutes or hamstrings. Using a tennis ball, golf ball or frozen water bottle can be awesome for rolling out your feet. The Stick can be particularly useful for areas that are harder to roll out using body weight, or for people who just don’t like the foam roller. My 15 year old runner won’t use the foam roller but loves The Stick. My older daughter who is an elite level dancer on a very competitive collegiate team lives with her foam roller and lacrosse ball. I use the foam roller everyday whether I exercise or not. It’s an inexpensive way to keep your body flexible and ready to do whatever you are asking it to do.

    Reply
    • Caitlin January 21, 2014, 2:43 pm

      Awesome! Thanks for weighing in :)

      Reply
  • Ali January 21, 2014, 2:45 pm

    I don’t roll out on the reg, but I do keep a foam roller around, for sure. It’s great for the little pinches and pains that you know you can work out yourself with a little love. I get remedial massages once a month for the big stuff when I’m actively training, and the foam roller is great for all of the little stuff that pops up in between sessions. Also, if a foam roller can’t fix it, I know it’s time to move up the date of my massage.

    Reply
  • Andrea @ With a Side of Magic January 21, 2014, 3:16 pm

    I may be wrong, but maybe the extra soreness came from doing a 2 mile week last week to a 9.5 mile week this week?

    Reply
  • Nicole January 21, 2014, 3:17 pm

    I love foam rolling too. Although, I’m still in the “every now and then” category! For me, it’s mostly a massage tool, although I do appreciate what it does for my muscles after a run!

    Reply
  • Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs January 21, 2014, 4:04 pm

    I’ve actually never foam rolled before, so this is great info for me. Thanks! :)

    Reply
  • Breanne January 21, 2014, 4:48 pm

    I roll, but I’ve never rolled before – I will definitely need to incorporate that. I also need to incorporate more rolling in general.

    I LOVED The Stick when I was in PT, but never went to get one myself. I finally got around to getting a similar one (Gaiam’s Massage Roller). I’m excited to use it.

    I’ve also used tennis balls (mostly for feet and for arms) and empty wine bottles (when in need…).

    Reply
  • Ashley @ Saving Money in your Twenties January 21, 2014, 4:55 pm

    I like foam rolling, but I don’t do it too often or for too long. I always kinda felt guilty about not doing it more often but maybe I’m saving myself some unnecessary pain!

    Reply
  • Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries January 21, 2014, 5:06 pm

    I’m training for a half, and I’ve been having issues with my hip flexors, so I’ve really been making a point to foam roll regularly. It definitely has helped in my experience! I find it interesting to roll after AND before your workout… I typically only do it after, so I’m going to try it tomorrow before AND after my run!

    Reply
  • Katie @ Talk Less, Say More January 21, 2014, 5:53 pm

    I SWEAR by foam rolling for my IT bands! LOVE it! Of course it does hurt sometimes but for me, I usually find that’s a sign that I haven’t been doing it enough lately and my muscles are overly tight.

    Reply
  • Amber K January 21, 2014, 6:10 pm

    I’m going to have to see a physical therapist I think. I’ve been having issues with my IT band for weeks now and nothing seems to be making it any better. I have never gone this long without working out and I’m going stir crazy! I have a foam roller and a stick, but they don’t seem to be helping much.

    Reply
  • Anna January 21, 2014, 7:14 pm

    I have both The Stick and a foam roller. I actually got a trigger point roller for Christmas. I’ve been trying to be more diligent about rolling and usually do it after long runs. Great article.

    Reply
  • Leah January 21, 2014, 7:15 pm

    I had no idea how helpful foam rolling could be for running and soreness!
    Ive been using on on my it band and soft tissues that are tight per my physical therapist’s instructions. I had a knee injury that became aggravated when I got pregnant.
    Now 29 weeks and looking forward to running again after my baby is born! And I may just use to foam roller to help ☺

    Reply
  • Elizabeth @ Positive Change January 21, 2014, 7:20 pm

    Great post! I foam roll sometimes, I would say twice a week. Like you, I have also “hurt” my legs more than helped. I once foam rolled for 30 minutes and I could hardly walk the next day. I will be using your guide the next time I foam roll!

    Reply
  • Ali January 21, 2014, 8:56 pm

    I tried posting once – not sure where my comment went? I’m technologically deficient tonight I guess! I love foam rolling but I only roll when I need to. I really prefer my “angry” roller with flattened spikes and using body weight over a stick roller. I feel like I can control the amount of pressure better and it’s more gentle and effective.

    Random side note, and I’m sorry to bring it up. As a published scientist, I would be so incredibly sad that the study I worked years and years on was referred to as “This study” with a link rather than “A study by so and so” with the actual publication information attached. It is so, so important to list names of the authors and researchers. They dedicate their lives to determining and providing this information and it’s only right to give credit where credit is due. Many people who visit your blog will likely not click those links. Sorry to sound critical, I really do not mean to. I know this is becoming more and more of a “thing” on blogs lately and it’s frustrating when my students see this and think it’s okay and try to do it in a class.

    Reply
  • Chrissy January 21, 2014, 9:01 pm

    Thank You Thank You Thank You!!! My sciatic nerve is acting up and a good foam roll always helps. I needed this reminder tonight.

    Reply
  • Paige January 21, 2014, 9:10 pm

    I prefer a hand held muscle roller so i can bring it with me to the gym, i got a great deal on a golf ball muscle roller which i absolutely love!!
    http://zzathletics.com/Golf-Ball-Muscle-Roller-Massager-GBMR1.htm

    Reply
  • Cathy January 21, 2014, 11:24 pm

    This info is so helpful, thank you!
    I’ve only borrowed other runners rollers during relays. But I’ve been debating getting one. Since I just started half marathon training I think I might need to pick one up :)

    Reply
  • Orla January 22, 2014, 6:56 am

    I love foam rolling when I am in full on training mode – by love I mean completely hate it but appreciate that it saves me money in PT bills.
    I bought a cheap pool noodle for €1 before investing in a good roller to see whether it was for me. Defo a good idea – I then invested in a Tigers Tale which is similar to the stick and use both regularly. The TT is great for areas of my back and shoulders that I find the full on rolling too intense for.
    But on a whole I am a foam roll lover. :)

    Reply
  • Laura@SneakersandSpatulas January 22, 2014, 8:42 am

    I received a foam roller for Christmas as I heard they are good for your muscles but I have to admit I have no clue how to actually use it! I tried it a few times and didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I need to find some good resources on foam rolling for triathletes.

    Reply
  • Maren January 22, 2014, 11:41 am

    Thanks for the info! I recently read that foam rolling before and after a workout is important, but if you’re crunched for time, to make sure you do it before. Interesting stuff! I just started training for a half in April and I have been living on my foam roller. My IT band was super tight after my first long run last weekend and it feels MUCH better today after religiously foam rolling!

    Reply
  • Megan @ The Skinny-Life January 22, 2014, 2:52 pm

    Great topic & information! Funny that you wrote this post because it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot the last two weeks. I recently did a half marathon & was wondering if my recovery would be improved by foam rolling. At the gym, I substitute a weighted ball to rollout after my workouts.

    Reply
  • Claire Zulkey January 22, 2014, 5:42 pm

    My foam roller sits in the corner in my bedroom, but it doesn’t go unused: the baby thinks it’s hilarious to knock it over after I stand it on my end and then to roll around on it.

    Reply
  • Trinda January 24, 2014, 11:13 am

    I try to foam roll regularly, but unfortunately I do the whole, “I don’t have time” thing, so foam rolling goes by the way-side. It really helps with my shin splints, but I’ve taken to using a ‘massage stick’ which really helps out with my soreness as well, and I don’t feel like it takes as much time haha

    Reply

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