I find that foam roller exercises really help me to recover from stiff muscles after training sessions or races. For me, foam roller exercises, especially focussing on hamstrings, calves and quadriceps, have a much more positive effect than stretching routines. But I had never heard of a a foam runner three years ago.
I had just completed a particularly tough parkrun at the end of our holiday in Oban, on the wet coast of Scotland, and took the excellent opportunity to wade in the cool Irish Sea to help assist my recovery and enjoy the beautiful view. This was particularly needed as we had walked up (and more significantly, down) Ben Nevis only a few days before, and my legs were still fully aware of it, a point further encouraged by the rather undulating but firm nature of the out and back parkrun route.
Another athlete, about the same age as me, had the same idea. As we were motivated to do this for similar reasons, we got talking about how best to recover from workouts, and he mentioned that he regularly used a foam roller for massage. Now this guy had finished a considerable distance ahead of me in the race, and indeed was very highly placed in spite of being in the over 50 category, so I thought that he must be doing something right. Convinced, I actually ordered two rollers, as I wasn’t the only one in the family who was in on this conversation and I wanted to avoid potential clashes.
Of course I haven’t consistently kept up with using the foam roller for the past three years, but as I have stepped up my marathon training programme, especially as I have built up the more intense workouts such as hill sprints and interval training, I have begun to use it after almost every training session.
Here is my (very) basic routine.
Foam roller calf exercises
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and rest your calves on the foam roller, lifting your backside off the floor with the flats of your hands. Then cross your legs so that all the weight of your legs is focussed on one calf, and roll up and down for 30-60 seconds before repeating for the other calf. If it hurts, it probably means that its doing some good. If it really hurts, you might want to try rolling both calves at the same time to halve the pressure.
Foam roller hamstring exercises
Method same as the calf exercises, but rolling the hamstrings.
Foam roller glute exercises
Your “glutes” or gluteus maximus muscles are basically your backside muscles, and these are done similarly to the calves and hamstrings, but you will need to lift your opposite knee up to help with balance as you roll each set of glutes.
Foam roller quadriceps exercises
I tend to roll my quadriceps (or thighs) in pairs, and adopt a position that would be akin to doing press-ups (at least that’s the polite description) but with the thighs sharing the load with the hands rather than the feet. You can extend this of by lifting or crossing over one leg to create more pressure, as with the calf and hamstring exercises.
There are of course a huge variety of exercises that you can carry out with a massage roller, but I am happy at the moment with the above basic routine, as I feel it gives a good benefit to time spent ratio.
There are plenty of sources that will give ideas regarding the exercises you can do with a foam massage roller, including this one, which gives clear photos and explanations.