Tight calf and quadricep muscles are amongst the most common ailments for runners.
If the muscles in your calves and the fronts of your thighs have been seizing up after running, you’ll be glad to hear that there’s a much cheaper and easier solution than costly visits to your physiotherapist.
Get your hands on a high-quality foam roller, and you can loosen up those muscles yourself, from home, in no time!
However, getting yourself a foam roller is only the first step of the equation. If you want to get your calves and quads completely knot-free and ready to run again, you need to learn how to use your new massage tool properly.
We’ve created the following guide to foam rolling your calf and quadricep muscles to help runners everywhere take care of their bodies and reach their full potentials. If that sounds like exactly what you need, keep reading, because we have a lot to get through!
Foam Rolling your Calves
We’ll start with what many runners consider to be the more difficult task.
Foam rolling your calves can be a tiring and unusual process at first, but once you’ve mastered it, you won’t remember how you ever ran marathons without this recovery technique.
Step 1: Get Into Position
The first step to learning how to properly foam roll your calves (or any other muscle group) is to master the starting position.
Take your time getting this perfect because your positioning, in part, will determine how effectively you’re able to massage those knots out.
When foam rolling your calves, you’ll want to begin in a reclined sitting position with your arms braced at your sides and your legs outstretched in front of you.
Cross one leg over the other at the ankle and slide your foam roller under your legs so that it’s underneath your lowermost calf.
Step 2: Engage
Here’s where the hard work begins. To achieve an aligned, balanced rolling motion with the correct amount of pressure on your calf muscle, you will need to lift yourself a few inches off the ground.
This will involve engaging your core muscles and using your arms and abdominal muscles to push yourself up.
At this point, your buttocks should be elevated a few inches off the floor with your hands still braced to your sides, and your legs still crossed at the ankles, resting on the foam roller.
Step 3: Roll
You are now ready to start rolling your calf muscles. Slowly and carefully, use your arms to push your body forwards and backward so that the roller travels smoothly from your ankle up to (but not onto) the back of your knee.
This may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but rest assured that this is normal - unless you are in severe pain, in which case, stop and seek medical advice. You can always use your arms to maneuver your body weight and reduce the pressure if need be.
You should try to maintain a smooth, consistent rolling motion as much as you can. If you find an area of muscle that’s especially knotted, you can try to work the knots out using smaller, targeted rolls. However, you should avoid applying pressure to the same area for more than 60 seconds.
Step 4: Repeat
Now that you’ve massaged the calf muscle of one leg don’t forget to repeat the process on the other side!
Take the midway point to lower yourself to the ground and take a breather if you need to.
Step 5: Stretch
As with any form of exercise, it’s crucial to finish off your calf rolling with some calf stretches. This will stop you from feeling too sore afterward and will increase blood circulation to your calf muscles to promote repair.
Calf stretches can be performed seated with the help of a resistance band or standing. Popular yoga poses such as the downward dog are also excellent for lengthening out the calf muscles.
Foam Rolling your Quads
Now it’s time to learn how to foam roll your quadriceps.
There’s not so much tricep or core engagement involved in this one, so you should breeze right through it after the calf technique.
Step 1: Get Into Position
Just like with calf rolling, you’ll need to start by getting into position. This time, you’re going to be lying on your front.
Position the roller underneath the thigh you want to work on first. Keep your other leg off to the side, out of the way.
Step 2: Roll
And just like that, you’re ready to roll! Using your foot (on the roller leg) to push and your arms to guide your body, roll yourself backward and forwards so that your thigh moves over the roller.
You want the roller to make contact with the whole length of the front of your thigh, from just above your knee joint to the hip flexors (the area where your thigh connects to your pelvis).
Just as you would when rolling your calves, aim for long, consistent rolls and spend no more than 60 seconds at a time on knotted areas. Make sure not to roll over your knees or hips, and if the pressure feels too intense, take it down a notch by adjusting with your arms.
Step 3: Repeat
Once again, don’t neglect the other side!
Reset your position so that your other thigh is on top of the roller and repeat the process.
Step 4: Stretch
When you’ve finished rolling your quads on both legs, warm your muscles back down with some easy quad stretches.
The basic standing quad stretch is a great, versatile choice that can also be performed lying down or even kneeling, so be sure to try it out after your rolling sessions.
We’ve broken the above step-by-step guides into as few steps as possible to help simplify the instructions.
However, there are some crucial pointers to keep in mind as you roll.
- Don’t overdo it. Keep your rolling sessions relatively short (under a quarter of an hour). You don’t want to overwork already sore muscles. Don’t apply more pressure than feels necessary or comfortable, and stick to slow, smooth rolling motions.
- Warm up and warm down. You should schedule your foam rolling sessions for times when your muscles will be warm and at their most supple. After a workout is the best time for this. You should also warm down again after your rolling session to promote muscle health, relaxation, and repair.
- Avoid joints. While you want to be applying healthy pressure to the targeted muscle groups with your foam roller, the opposite is true for your joints. Make sure to stop before your knee, ankle, or hip joints on each roll.
- Hydrate. Stretching and massaging is essential, but if you really want to keep your muscles healthy, hydration is vital. Drinking plenty of water before and after foam rolling will promote blood flow, remove waste, and reduce soreness.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of foam rolling?
For runners, the benefits of foam rolling are manifold. Rolling your quads and calves doesn’t just relieve tension and knotting.
It also promotes healthy circulation and increases the muscles’ range of motion, making injuries and soreness in the future less likely.
Can foam rolling be harmful?
Foam rolling can become damaging when performed for too long, too often, or incorrectly.
Injuries from foam rolling are most likely to occur if a muscle group has been worked on too extensively or if joints have been rolled over.
Do not use a foam roller (unless cleared to do so by your doctor) if you are injured. Also, be sure to seek medical advice before using a foam roller if you are pregnant.