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Using a Foam Roller to Enhance Your Running Performance

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running.jpgRunning is a great way to stay in shape and control weight. It also improves mood and decreases stress levels, but the stress caused to the body is a different story. The fascia, or connective tissues, provides protection for the muscles and structural support for bones and joints. Runners often get adhesions, knots or scar tissue in the fascia which can cause restrictions in the muscles and joints. The stress on the joints, bones and muscles can lead to decreased performance, long recovery periods and possible injury. Myofascial massage is a form of sports massage therapy that can reduce chronic pain and improve muscle flexibility and performance. A foam roller is an inexpensive alternative to massage therapy, and can be used for self-myofascial massage.

Stretching before a workout has its limitations. Ten minutes of pre-workout massage exercises with the foam roller can break down scar tissue and knots to improve endurance, coordination, balance, strength and speed. It is also thought to reduce the appearance of cellulite by improving circulation and expelling water retention and toxins. For hamstrings, place the foam roller on a mat under the thighs. Propped on the elbows or hands, roll from the top to just above the back of the knee. Massage the quadriceps, or front of the thighs, by lying on the stomach and rolling the body back and forth. Use it to massage the adductors, or inner thighs, the same way, only extending the leg to the side and working one at a time. Increase the blood flow in the calves by placing the foam roller under one calf and rolling it in and out. Increase the pressure by crossing the ankles

A recent study published in "Science Translation Medicine" showed that post-workout massage can reduce muscle inflammation and lessen recovery times. During a cool down, it is best to use the roller while the muscles are still warm, and work your way from the middle of the body to the lower extremities. A short 15 minutes session is sufficient. Start with the piriformis in the gluteal and lower back areas, by sitting on the foam roller, leaning to one side and rolling it back and forth over the tender areas. 

Next, work knots out of the iliotibial band which runs the length of the thigh to the hip. Do this by getting in to a side plank position and placing the foam roller under one hip. Roll back and forth along the hip in tight areas with the legs stacked one on top of the other. For a low-intensity option, bend the opposite leg and place the foot on the floor to support your body weight. In addition, repeat the massage exercises for the thighs and calves.

The foam roller can be used to massage virtually any muscle in the body. Simply use your own body weight to put gentle pressure on the soft tissue area, and roll back and forth along the affected muscle. Massage each area as long as it takes to work out tightness or soreness.