Foam rollers: how to use them

A foam roller can help to achieve similar benefits to deep tissue massage and, used correctly, can help to improve flexibility and decrease muscle tension. In conjunction with a regular strength and conditioning programme, this humble piece of equipment can help to keep you injury and niggle-free. Below are four key areas that need the most attention.

Credit: Peter Muller / Cultura / Getty Images

A foam roller is  a lightweight, relatively cheap piece of kit (ranging from £10-40) that can help to achieve similar benefits to deep tissue massage and, used correctly, can help to improve flexibility and decrease muscle tension. As the elite triathletes I work with say to me, “Better the foam roller than your elbow!”.

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In conjunction with a regular strength and conditioning programme, this humble piece of equipment can help to keep you injury and niggle-free. For example, Team GB triathlete Vicky Holland uses the roller for two main reasons:

Firstly, soft tissue release (controlled rolling) and trigger point work (spending time rolling on a specific tender point) can prevent injury. This can be self-directed or specifically targeted at an injured or tight muscle group as directed by your physiotherapist.

Secondly, monitoring muscles. You will know how your muscle groups normally feel post-training, so if you notice any areas getting tight you can flag this up to your therapist.

Whatever your injury, try this simple bit of kit – it may be the answer to keeping those niggles at bay.

Here is how to use it on four key areas

1. Iliotibial Band (ITB)

The ITB is a band of fibrous material running from the top of the hip to underneath the knee – any dysfunction can lead to anterior knee pain.

Exercise: Lie on your right side with the roller just under your hip bone. Straighten your right leg, support yourself using your arms and, if needed, the left leg. Roll from the hip down the outer side of your leg to the knee. Repeat on the other side.

2. Quadriceps

Tight quads are a common complaint and the foam roller can help promote recovery post-sessions by reducing soreness and lowering the risk of associated hip and knee injuries.

Exercise: Lie with the roller under one thigh. Support your body weight with your forearms. Roll the length of the quad, from hip to knee. Alter the angle of the leg to work the whole muscle.

3. Calves

Any areas of tightness or trigger points can lead to an alteration in foot and landing biomechanics when you’re running, ultimately resulting in injuries.

Exercise: Make sure to roll the inside section of the calf, right up to where it joins the shin bone. Sit with the roller under your calf, stacking one foot on top of the other. Support your body weight with your hands and roll the length of the calf, altering the angle of the leg to reach the outside and inside of the muscle.

4. Thoracic Spine

In addition to injury prevention, working on better thoracic extension will help run performance by improving posture, biomechanics and breathing.

Exercise: Lie on your back over the foam roller. Cross your arms and keep the lower back dropped down. Roll, relaxing as much as possible, letting the back arch over the roller. Hold this position or roll to target the muscle at either side of the spine. Support the neck if needed.

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