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Foam rolling has shown positive effects for runners. But should you foam roll before or after running? As a physical therapy student, I’ve read many studies surrounding this topic, and here’s what the studies show…
In general, foam rolling after training is the most beneficial for runners. It increases muscle soreness and improves recovery allowing you to train sooner than you would have otherwise.
Ahead, we will talk about what foam rolling does, the benefits of foam rolling when done before or after training, and some tips to make sure you get the most out of this recovery tool.
What Foam Rolling Does
Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release method designed to break up adhesions in your muscles and fascia. It also increases the blood flow in the area, therefore, producing its benefits.
The notable benefits of foam rolling includes:
- An acute increase in range of motion
- Alleviate muscle fatigue
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Reduce pain
- Provide relaxation
However, research suggests that the effects that we see from foam rolling are not solely a result of breaking adhesions but rather having effects on the viscoelastic properties of your muscles and fascia as well as your nervous system.
Nevertheless, foam rolling is proven to have positive effects on recovery making it popular for runners and other athletes as well.
The only way to reap those benefits is when you do them properly. And one question that is always asked when it comes to foam rolling is when should you foam roll?
When Should Runners Foam Roll
Foam Rolling Before Running
Runners foam rolling before a race seems to be a common sight amongst runners. But does that have any positive benefits?
Let’s check out a few studies done on this subject.
A study published in 2013 aimed to examine the effects of foam rolling done before a workout. They found that while foam rolling slightly increases the range of motion, it has no impact on overall performance.
This study was supported by a study conducted in 2016 where the results aligned with the previous study.
Both studies showed that foam rolling before running improves flexibility but it does not improve nor reduce athletic performance.
“Foam rolling before an exercise doesn’t show a consistent benefit, but it also doesn’t show a consistent negative“, says Dr. Sam Spinelli, a physical therapist at E3 Rehab.
“So if you like to do it, it shouldn’t really be an issue, if you don’t like to do it, don’t feel required“, he added.
Foam Rolling After Running
So what about foam rolling after a running? It seems like there are less people doing this. But is there any benefit that you might be missing?
Again, let’s take a look at the evidence that we have on this topic.
A 2019 meta-analysis revealed a decrease in muscle soreness and improvement in the rate of recovery following a post-exercise foam rolling session.
The same study also looked at the effects of foam rolling done before and in between exercises but did not result in similar benefits.
Therefore, it is concluded that foam rolling after training is superior to the other two in terms of aiding recovery.
“Foam rolling after training is probably the time where it has most benefit”, says Dr. Spinelli.
“It’s mostly beneficial for soreness, however, for many people they might find that it helps them to come back sooner than they otherwise would”, he added.
And because you can come back to training faster, foam rolling after running might help you perform better over time.
Related post: Should You Stretch Before Or After Running?
Foam Rolling Tips
Slow down. To maximize the effects of foam rolling, let the foam roller press into your muscles slowly. Make sure that your foam rolls the entire length of your muscle.
Time your foam rolling. Stick to around 60 seconds per muscle group. Too little may not produce the desired benefits and too much may cause bruising or muscle soreness.
Stretch after foam rolling. Although foam rollers are a great tool by themselves, it doesn’t lengthen the entirety of the muscle like stretching does. Make sure you still do stretching after foam rolling to maintain or increase your flexibility.
Choose a medium-density foam roller. The ideal roller has a hard plastic inner and a foam that doesn’t have too much give like this one from Amazon.
Use a foam roller with ridges or knobs. These types of foam rollers can dig deep into your tissue and double as a myofascial release tool.
Foam Rolling For Runners: How to Do It?
Foam rolling isn’t exclusive for runners. However, there are certain muscle groups that runners need to foam roll more than others. These muscles are:
- IT band/thighs
The video embed above shows you how to foam roll those muscles.
To conclude, foam rolling before or after running is fine and there are no negative effects of doing it twice. However, studies suggest that foam rolling after a workout is most beneficial.
That said if you have a limited time and you have to choose between foam rolling before or after running, do it after.
This blog post was reviewed by a licensed Physical Therapist.