Foam Rolling: The Necessary Evil

Foam rollers are torture devices in disguise. Just like flossing, it’s one of my least favorite thing in the world. (I hate flossing so, so, so much.) Here are 12 Things I would rather do than foam roll:

1. Get 20 Cavities Filled

2. Be Tasered with a Taser Gun

3. Give all my shoes away

4. Give up chocolate

5. Run a marathon in cotton

6. Re-live my teenage years

7. Become a mute

8. Sit in a tank filled with spiders

9. Give up electricity

10. Be stuck in a ravine, 127 Hours style, and have to cut off my hand

11. Sit on the subway with Europeans who do not use deodorant

12. Be stranded on a desert island without internet

OK, OK, OK, FINE! I’m being dramatic! But foam rolling is so painful! And can we address how everyone interchangeably uses “massage” when they talk about foam rolling? What kind of massage are you people getting? That’s not a massage; it’s an exorcism on your muscles!

Enough whining let’s talk about why we endure the torture that is a foam roller. Go ahead and feel your forearm. How does that feel? It should feel pretty supple am I right? It’s not super tight or firm and has some give. Now reach down and feel those calves. Mine feel like a well done piece of steak. That is exactly what you want to prevent and foam rolling is the answer.

Endurance running and its repetitive movement patterns are stressful on your body. A few weeks ago, an awesome Run, Selfie, Repeater named Stephanie shot me an email recommending that I read, “Anatomy for Runners” by the magical Jay Dichory. This book is a tough but absolutely essential read for anyone who runs. This is not your average walk in the park book, there’s a lot of medical vernacular throughout but it breaks down what happens to endurance runners bodies, how to prevent injuries, and how to become a faster and more efficient runner.

Did you know it takes 14 days for your body to repair from training? I don’t know about you, but I run more than once every two weeks. Because we don’t wait for our bodies to completely repair, scar tissue forms. And that scar tissue needs to be broken up by foam rolling and stretching.  In Dichory’s words, “Poor healing= poor mobility = parts can’t do the job they were designed to do.”

So what exactly does foam rolling do? Excellent questions, back in May Tara (personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Uplift Studios) wrote a piece on foam rolling over on Squat, Selfie Repeat. I will let Tara explain, it’s “the same reason we all ask our boyfriends or girlfriends or roommates (or strangers, I don't know your life) to rub our feet or shoulders after a long day at the office; because we need to release tension so we can feel better. So we can start the next day refreshed and ready to go.

See, our muscles are covered in this stuff called fascia. It's basically like a protective layer of saran wrap for our muscles. And when we workout, this fascia gets all bunched up and tight and our muscles build up lactic acid. When you foam roll you are basically mushing the fascia and making it all juicy and bloody again (super cute, right?) in addition to breaking down the lactic acid and removing it from your muscle tissue. In other words, you're giving yourself a massage. FO' FREE.”

(There it is again, a massage! NOT LIKE A CALM SERENE RELAXING SPA MASSAGE, LIKE A SUPER INTENSE ATHLETIC PAINFUL BUT NECESSARY MASSAGE. I digress.)

“Like massages, foam rolling has a ridiculous amount of benefits, especially in relation to training. Not only does it speed up recovery time, but it prevents DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), cramping, relieves pain from shin splints and IT band syndrome, as well as improves flexibility and range of motion.”

These are the three reasons to foam roll-

1. Improves Flexibility

            Think of your muscles like a spring. When a spring is really tight, it’s harder to deform and you have to do more work and exude more energy.  The longer the spring, the easier it is to deform and exude/release more energy. When you foam roll your muscles you are stretching, elongating, and opening up the tissue so it can slide and glide normally.

2. Improve Your Range of Movement

I know-that sounds so wonderful but what does that mean? It means getting the most bang for your buck! It means are you able to fully extend and distribute stress evenly and efficiently when you exercise? Probably not! Most people don’t tend to work out their entire body evenly. I know I don’t. I know I should, but I don’t do enough core work. For example, did you know that one of the biggest problems seen in runners lies in their hips? And the only way to resolve this problem is by stretching and increasing your range of movement? Read more from Jay Dichory here (CLICK HERE)

3. DECREASE YOUR RISK OF INJURY

Here is the Holy Grail. Want to know what sucks, being 12 weeks into a marathon training program and developing IT band issues, or straining a muscle. Why wait for disaster to strike when you can pro-actively prevent it!? (Don’t I sound so convincing? It’s really just me trying to convince myself that I need to foam roll more.) If you are a runner, strength training, stretching, and foam rolling are essential. Treat your body with the respect it deserves. Don’t wait until your car breaks down to take it in, make sure you are doing your tune ups.

Things to remember:

When you are stretching, hold each exercise for 3-5 minutes, 4-6 days a week.

You should be foam rolling for 3-5 minutes a day.

If you are not doing that your body isn’t performing at peak performance which means you are making yourself available for injuries. You are a sitting duck.

So now we know why you should foam roll, but how do you use it? I’ll let Tara explain and demonstrate.

“Here are my favorite foam rolling exercises for legs, and the best part is you can foam roll BEFORE AND AFTER running or working out. If you roll before a workout, it acts as a "pre-stretch" which will help prevent injury. Heck, you can foam roll all damn day if you want!

Hamstring Roll (Roll from right below your glutes to right above the back of your knee. Resting the other leg on top adds more pressure and increases intensity. So proceed with CAUTION!)

 IT BAND (Roll from top of the side of your hip to right above the side of your knee. Use your other leg to help maneuver back and forth on the roller)

Quad Roll (roll from top of your legs to above your knees. Again place your other leg on top to add pressure. Try rolling side to side while you roll back and forth on your quads to hit all sorts of fascia goodness)

Calf Roll (roll from above your ankle to right below your knee. Again add a leg to add pressure. This will KILL after some incline sprints so you might want to grab a towel to bite. Or just scream in agony.)

So, no more excuses! And no more injuries! Even if you run 10 miles a week you will benefit from stretching and foam rolling. There's all sorts of awesome resources out there: One of them being the video in this article on Runners World titled "How to Prevent Common Running Injuries" by Jay Dichory CLICK HERE FOR THE ARTICLE. That is all I have for you today. Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.

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Kelly Roberts

My name is Kelly Roberts and I am a 25 year old New York City resident. My story made headlines when I took selfies with hot guys “hottie hunting” my way through the NYC Half Marathon. My blog, www.RunSelfieRepeat.com is bursting with humor and personal stories that lend an insight into the world of running and lead you to believe that just about anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can and should fall in love with running. Though currently an avid runner, I never would have predicted I would run marathons. I was the kid who used to hide in the bushes or play dead to get out of running the mile in school. I HATED running. But running has given me a purpose. It’s shown me that I really am limitless. In the two years since I started running, I’ve run multiple half marathons, 10ks, and 5ks, and two full marathons. My mission is to inspire others to find the courage to say yes to themselves all the while making them laugh hysterically because laughing is the solution to everything.