Foam rolling for runners helps blood flow, soreness, and gets your body ready. But should you foam roll before or after a run? Find out here.
Walk into a runner’s house, and you’re sure to see a collection of strange tools.
And one of them is guaranteed to be a foam roller.
These small pieces of foam release our aches and pains and prepare us for the next day’s run.
But is it better to use a foam roller before or after a run?
I’ll answer all that and more here. Let’s get started.
Should you foam roll before or after a run?
You may hate this answer, but it’s simple: it’s up to you when to foam roll.
Foam rolling before and after your run has its benefits.
For example, foam rolling before a run is a great way to increase your mobility and range of motion. You’ll also loosen up the different muscle groups and fascia, so your legs are warmed up and ready to go.
On the other hand, foam rolling post-run has its benefits, too.
The self-massage post-run helps to transition your muscles back to a resting state. It’s an excellent wind-down that helps lower muscle soreness, increase blood flow, and increase mobility through myofascial release.
And it just feels good. (Well, most of the time).
But when to do it is ultimately up to you.
Try both and see what works best. If you feel you get nothing from rolling pre-run, remove it from your warmup. And the same goes for rolling post-run.
If it feels good to you in most situations, roll with it 😉.
Why is foam rolling for runners beneficial?
I touched on this briefly in the previous section, but I thought I’d dive in deeper using some research that helps you understand a bit better (like it did with me).
What the research says on foam rolling pre-run
The main reason runners foam roll (FR) before a run is for full range of motion (ROM) benefits.
And the research supports these benefits somewhat. While it’s not clear cut (and research is needed in the area), there are signs it helps.
For example, an article published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology in 2019 showed slight improvement.
The study found FR had minor benefits to ROM and hamstring flexibility. But, the researchers mentioned FR “did not provide any physiologic benefit…However, FR may provide some psychological benefit.”
The findings were similar to a systematic review published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2020.
It found that FR could reduce stiffness and increase ROM, but it should be paired “with dynamic stretching and active warm-up.” The review also found that it could reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and increase your pressure pain threshold (PPT).
So, while all signs point to a pre-run foam rolling session being beneficial, more research is still needed.
Ultimately, if you foam roll pre-run and feel you get some benefit from it — stick with it.
What the research says on foam rolling post-run
We’ve all had that lingering pain in our quadriceps from DOMS.
So, can foam rolling help us avoid delayed torture? Let’s see what the research says.
First, a study published in Frontiers of Physiology in 2019 took twenty men and had them perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts.
Post-workout, the subjects performed self-myofascial release with an FR on one leg and used the other as the control subject. Researchers found that the FR decreased DOMS by 50% compared to only 20% in the control leg. The FR leg also experienced a 4.2% increase in ROM compared to the non-FR leg.
Another study from 2019 published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research put 37 men through 40 x 15m sprints, then had 18 FR and 19 act as the control group.
The study found that FR had a positive effect on the “recovery of agility after EIMD (exercise-induced muscle damage)” and that it could serve as a valuable tool for athletes who need quick agility recovery.
Just like foam rolling pre-run, keep doing it if you enjoy it.
Best foam rolling tips and tricks
Just because using a foam roller helps doesn’t mean you should just grab it and start foam rolling after running.
There is a right and wrong way to foam roll, so you should know a few things before you start:
- Start with short foam rolling sessions. Start with 60 seconds and gradually increase the length to even longer (maybe 5-10 minutes). It’ll improve as you become more comfortable with the technique, where to place the foam roller, and how to handle a spot with extra tightness.
- Focus on commonly tight areas like the IT band, calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Foam rolling can help these areas in particular because you can find a tender spot and slowly roll it out.
- Roll slowly and methodically, applying an even amount of pressure to the muscle. You want to find your trigger points, but you also want the round foam rollers to move smoothly over your muscles. Focus on going slowly and rolling the entire length of your muscle.
- Break up adhesions or knots by holding the foam roll on them for at least 30 seconds. Your muscles and fascia take time to release. If you find a spot that’s tighter than others, stay on it, and give it time to release.
- Breathe deeply to help relax the muscle and increase range of motion. Breathing deeply relaxes your body and helps you get deeper into your large muscle groups. Just place the roller underneath the muscle you’re rolling and take it slow.
- Finish with a few dynamic stretches to help increase your range of motion and flexibility. After a round of foam rolling, you may still have tension in the area, whether it’s your upper back, adductor, or simply your right thigh. Give your body a bit more love, and it’ll repay you.
Will you use a foam roller before or after your run?
I love a good foam rolling session.
It can be painful at times, but it gives some benefits.
So, what do you think? Is foam rolling a regular part of your routine? And do you foam roll pre-or post-run?
Let me know in the comments.