Refresh Your Legs with 15 Minutes of Guided Foam Rolling for Runners

Foam rolling is a dreaded task for many runners. It can be a bit painful if you haven’t done it in a while, and it takes a bit of work. But runners in the know make time for foam rolling because it’s one of the best ways to release tension, improve blood flow, stay ahead of potential injury and keep your muscles optimized for running.

If you need motivation to foam roll or you just don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! Coach Nate takes us through a 15-minute guided foam rolling session to target your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes and thoracic spine. We recommend using a textured foam roller, like the Addaday Nonagon Roller, to really dig into your fascia. Let’s get started!

1. Quads: 30-second intervals, 2 minutes per quad, 4 minutes total

  • We’re going to break up this exercise into four thirty-second portions. On your hands and knees, place the foam roller under your right quad and collapse your weight onto it. Once you’ve completed two minutes on your right quad, switch to your left.
  • For 30 seconds, use quick, short rolls to work on your hip flexor before moving down to the area right above your knee.
  • In addition to rolling up and down, move your leg from side to side to get some cross-friction in. This will further break up any muscle tension or knots you may have.
  • For another 30 seconds, slightly rotate your body to the left so that the edge of your right quad is against the foam roller. You should feel this in your vastus lateralis—the muscle right in between your quadricep and your IT band.
  • For the next 30 seconds, rotate your body a bit further to the left so your IT band is sitting atop the foam roller. Roll up and down and throw in a few side-to-side rotations. If you’re having trouble with your IT band, this can help relax the muscles that surround the band to relieve some pressure.
  • The last 30 seconds will be spent on the inner part of your thigh, also known as your vastus medialis oblique muscle (VMO). Rotate your body so that your inner thigh is sitting atop the foam roller.
  • Once you’re finished with your right quad, switch over to your left and repeat.

2. Calves: 90 seconds per calf, 3 minutes total

  • Sit on the ground and place your right calf on top of the foam roller. Place your left foot on top of your right shin for added pressure.
  • For the first 45 seconds, we’re going to focus on your lower calf—your soleus and where your achilles begins to insert into your calf.
  • In addition to rolling up and down, rotate your leg from side to side just as we did for the quad portion.
  • When you find a tight spot, keep the foam roller directly underneath it while rotating your ankle in a circular motion to help that muscle knot release.
  • After 45 seconds, move the foam roller up your calf so that it’s sitting right below your gastrocnemius—the thick, beefy muscle in the middle of your calf. We’ll work on this for another 45 seconds.
  • Pay attention to how your body responds to the pressure of the foam roller. Maybe the lateral side of your calf feels more tight, or perhaps the medial side needs some extra TLC. If you need extra pressure, lift your butt up off the ground and use your arms to roll your body back and forth over the foam roller, or try using a firmer foam roller.
  • Don’t forget to move side to side in addition to up and down. Once you’ve hit 90 seconds on your right calf, it’s time to switch to the left.

3. Hamstrings: 90 seconds per leg, 3 minutes total

  • Place the foam roller directly underneath the top portion of your right hamstring where it inserts into your hip. Your left leg should be slightly bent with your left foot resting on the ground.
  • With your palms flat on the ground behind you, lift your butt up so the majority of your body weight is on the foam roller. For added pressure, cross your left leg onto your right leg so your entire body weight is on the foam roller.
  • Make sure your hamstring is fully relaxed. If it’s flexed, the foam roller won’t be able to dig into the muscle as much because the hamstring muscle is so thick and strong.
  • Work on your side to side movement as well as up and down, paying attention to your body and any tight spots that may pop up.
  • Don’t forget about the medial and lateral sides of your hamstrings, too!
  • Once you’ve hit 90 seconds, switch over to your left hamstring and repeat.

4. Glutes: 90 seconds per leg, 3 minutes total

  • Place your right glute on top of the foam roller. Your right leg should be bent in a V shape, sitting parallel to the ground. This allows the foam roller to dig into that glute muscle.
  • Place your left foot on the ground for support and roll up and down and side to side, looking for tight spots.
  • Once you find a particularly tight spot, straighten your right leg outward and then bend it inwards, kicking like a frog.
  • For extra pressure, place your left foot right above your right knee. Your left leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Continue to roll in this position to dig into your gluteus medius and piriformis muscles.
  • Switch to your left glute after 90 seconds and repeat.

5. Thoracic spine: 2 minutes

  • Place your feet flat on the ground with your legs bent at the knees. Your upper back should be resting on the foam roller. Your feet and your back are the only two body parts resting on something.
  • Stretch your arms out wide and then wrap them around yourself in a big bear hug. While this may feel weird, it helps stretch out your back so the foam roller can really dig in behind your shoulder blades.
  • For the first minute, move your body up and down against the foam roller, using your legs to move up and down the thoracic spine vertebrae by vertebrae. Try to target the areas behind your shoulder blades, where we typically carry a lot of tension.
  • For the second minute, raise your arms straight up above your head so that your upper body is completely parallel with the ground. This move will add some additional pressure to open and extend the thoracic spine a bit more.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back in a neutral position. You should be feeling this in your upper and mid-back, not your lower back.
  • Once you’ve completed the allotted two minutes, give yourself another big bear hug because you just completed the 15-minute foam rolling exercise!

It’s easy to finish up your foam rolling, dump your roller in your closet and forget about it for a couple of months. But in order to get results, you should be foam rolling at least twice per week.

If you’re in a training program, start foam rolling on week one to develop a strong recovery habit and to develop a baseline of healthy muscle tissue. As your training progresses, you’ll more quickly find tight and aggravated muscles that could present as “surprise” injuries later on.

Don’t forget to breathe deeply through the painful areas. Breathing not only helps to relax and release muscle tension, it’s also been shown to downregulate your nervous system from “fight and flight” mode to “rest and digest” mode for better sleep and recovery between workouts.

One word of caution—we recommend going especially easy on your legs right after a race or a hard workout when your muscles are still sore. You can dig deeper after a couple days of rest.

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