Tayte Pollmann’s Top 7 Foam Rolling Tips for Trail Runners

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.

Foam rollers are one of the most effective recovery tools for trail runners. They can be used before or after runs to help you avoid injuries and loosen painful or tight muscles. In recognition of 6th annual National Foam Rolling Day this past Monday, May 11, I share my top seven foam rolling tips and post-run foam rolling video routine. Be sure to check out the following “Social Distancing With Nano On Trails” video on foam rollers presented by our founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs.

Here are my Top 7 foam rolling tips:

Choosing Your Foam Roller
Foam rollers come in many shapes, textures and levels of hardness. Smaller foam rollers (12-24 inches) are easier to transport, but are not as stable as larger foam rollers (36 inches). Smooth foam rollers tend to provide a softer feel, whereas foam rollers with knobs or grooves are more effective at finding trigger points and digging deeper into muscles. Softer foam rollers are great for beginners or those looking for a light massage, whereas harder foam rollers are better suited for those who foam roll often, or need a deeper massage.

Make Rolling a Habit
Just like with your training, you will see the best results from foam rolling if you do it consistently. Make a habit to foam roll immediately after every run, or before bed. This will help loosen your muscles and leave you feeling better on your next run.

Add Side-to-Side Movements
Rotating your foam roller side-to-side across your muscles can help you find undiscovered trigger points and release muscles that you might not be able to release by simply rolling back and forth. Move slowly as sometimes side-to-side rolling feels more intense and will release muscles that have been previously neglected.

Roll Quickly, Roll Slowly
Should you move the foam roller across your muscles quickly or slowly? Move the foam roller quickly when you want to increase blood flow. This is best done before a workout to help activate your muscles. Foam roll slowly after a run, or before bedtime to help your muscles relax.

Release Trigger Points
As you move the foam roller across your muscles, look for areas that feel particularly tight. Hold the foam roller in these spots for at least 30 seconds, or until you feel the muscles start to release. This is best done after a run, or before bed to give your muscles a chance to relax.

Don’t Forget Your Iliotibial (IT) Band and Shins
Many trail runners who use foam rollers forget to roll two of the most important areas: the iliotibial (IT) band and shins. Runners typically have tight IT bands that can lead to injuries overtime. Most stretches don’t target the IT band, which makes foam rolling or massage one of the best ways to loosen it. Runners also don’t spend much time releasing their shins, which can lead to shin splints, one of the most common running-related injuries. Softer foam rollers are ideal for rolling out your shins so you don’t bruise your shin bones.

Opening Your Back and Shoulders
Foam rollers are great tools for releasing back-pain. If you have a longer foam roller, you can use it lengthwise and lay directly on it. You can roll back and forth or side-to-side on your upper and middle back, which can loosen your shoulders. Be sure not to roll on your lower back as this can cause pain or damage the spine if you’re not careful.

Now that you know the basics, here’s a post-run foam rolling routine I use in the video below. If you discover any trigger points, spend an additional 30 seconds holding the foam roller on each of these points until they release.

  • Calves (30 seconds both legs together, 30 seconds each leg)
  • Shins (30 seconds both legs together, 30 seconds each leg)
  • Hamstrings (30 seconds both legs together, 30 seconds each leg)
  • Quadriceps (30 seconds both legs together, 30 seconds each leg)
  • Glutes (30 seconds each glute)
  • IT band (30 seconds each leg)
  • Back and Shoulders (30 seconds)

Editor’s Note: Be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. Please continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.