If you’re a runner or an athlete, and have been for some time, chances are that you have some imbalances along your kinetic chain. You’ll notice this where the soles of your shoes wear down, or perhaps you feel it in your knees, ankles, or hips.
Yet as a runner, chances are that you have a limited amount of time and the last thing that you want to do is work through a long, drawn-out stretching routine. The solution? Target those key areas in a minimal amount of time using a foam roller! A foam roller can help relieve tension in sore muscles, lengthen shortened connective tissue, and help you discover your ideal alignment. This will ensure that you can continue to run for many years to come.
Here are my four favorite foam roller stretches for runners. For shorter runs, I recommend rolling out on the same day, sometime AFTER the run. For longer runs, I find rolling out BEFORE helps runners go the distance.
If you’ve been a runner for any length of time, chances are that you’re familiar with your psoas, the main hip flexor. The psoas kicks in with every stride and can become shortened, twisted, and tight. You may feel this in your hips or low back and it can affect your overall alignment and the load of your pelvis.
To stretch the psoas, place the roller underneath and across the hips, with shoulders and ribs on the floor. Try not to arch your low back. Reach your straight leg away from you as you gently draw your bent leg in. You should feel this at the top of your straight leg thigh.
The piriformis is your booty! Your hamstrings insert here and if they get tight or short your entire low back may feel it. A benefit to rolling out, as opposed to stretching, is that you target the insertion points and release from there.
To stretch the piriformis, sit on the roller with one knee up and one foot on the floor. Lean forward, slide your shoulders down, and breathe. You should feel the stretch in the glute of your bent leg. To go deeper, move the foot on the floor closer to you. Try to keep a hinged back. Watch a demo of the piriformis stretch here.
This nasty beast runs down from your hip and inserts behind your knee. If your iliotibial (IT) band is chronically tight, chances are you’ll feel it in your knee. This is because your patella (kneecap) can actually be pulled out of alignment and repetitive movements may start to wear away at the cartilage. YIKES! Roll that puppy out and think less spaghetti (round) and more linguini (flat) IT band.
Lay on the roller with one leg straight and the other leg bent with the foot on the floor. Put as much weight as necessary into the foot on floor- NOT into the straight leg. Start from the padded part of your hip and roll down the outside of your thigh. You can roll all the way down to the outside of your knee, stopping to give a little extra love to the spots that need it. If it’s unbearable, put a little weight into your hands. If you want to turn it up a notch, try it with a rolling pin!
For overall alignment and to send it all home, I like to end with rolling down the entire spine. This releases tight connective tissue along the intercostal muscles and can help get those ribs back where they need to be. Breathe into the back of the ribs while you do this and support your head so that your neck doesn’t fire.
Place the roller perpendicular to the spine, across the middle back. With hands behind head and elbows wide, lift the hips and start to roll up and down the spine. Roll lightly at first and then go a little deeper, breathing slowly into the spots that really need it. This will help you get a deeper, more effective breath while running and will also help stack your ribs directly over your pelvis while you run.
Foam rolling is painful at first, I’m not going to lie, but gets easier with time as you breathe, release, and roll. A white roller (like this one) is ideal for rolling rookies, while a denser roller (with spikes anyone?) may be preferred for seasoned rollers. In no time you may be switching out your roller for a wooden dowel. Roll on!