Run Pain-Free, Easier, and Faster: The Ultimate Guide to Foam Rolling for Runners

Would you like to run pain-free, faster, and with less effort?

Foam rolling can help.

So what’s the point of foam rolling for runners anyway?

It’s a method of self myofascial release. The myofascia is the connective tissue that encases all the muscles in your body.

This tissue also holds the muscle cells together in fascial envelopes. It connects to and is continuous with your tendons.

This tissue has a huge impact on how your body moves. It can be the most restrictive barrier to full, healthy range of motion. For runners, tight fascia can restrict your ability to move in the most optimal way.

How do you know if your tissue needs rolling?

According to Kelly Starrett, DPT, of MobilityWOD, any tissue that is sensitive to pressure needs work. You should not feel pain when your press on a muscle, whether its rolling on a tennis ball or a foam roller.

How does it work?

Scientists believe it works by several mechanisms.  One way is by stimulating your  GTO’s. That’s the Golgi tendon organs.

These are little organs located in you tendons that form a feedback system between your muscles, fascia, tendons, and nervous system.

When the GTO’s sense pressure on the fascia, they send signals to inhibit, or relax, the muscle and fascia where the pressure is.

Another mechanism is through gamma loop inhibition. Receptors throughout the fascia are responsive to slow, deep, sustained pressure.

When these receptors are stimulated by slow, deep, sustained pressure, they cause a reflex response that inhibits the nerves that cause muscle activation and contraction. Thus the muscle relaxes.

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General Guide

When you foam roll, it can be somewhat painful. The recommended method is to find your tender spots and hold some pressure for 30 seconds of maximal pain tolerance, or 90 seconds of minimal pain tolerance.


When these muscles are short and tight, they restrict your range of motion at the ankle joint. This interferes with your ability to safely absorb ground impact forces when running.

These forces range from 3 to 5 times your bodyweight with each step. Ideally you will absorb those forces over a longer distance rather than a shorter.



These muscles are located on the outside area of the calf and shin. Tight and short peroneals are a factor in over-pronation, or when the foot rolls in excessively when you walk or run. Roll this muscle group can help keep your foot and ankle in a more neutral position.


IT Band

The IT band, or illiotibial band, is a common problem area for runners. Tightness in the muscles that attach to this dense band of fiber that runs down the side of your thigh can cause friction and pain on the outside edge of the knee.

Foam rolling this area can provide relief or prevention by inhibiting the tightness in the outside quadriceps and tensor fascia lata.

IT Band

Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL)

This muscle is a common culprit in IT band issues.

Tensor Fascia Lata


This deep hip rotator can restrict your hip mobility when it’s tight. Lack of hip mobility usually will manifest in lower back or knee pain.


Inner Thigh (Adductors)

Tightness here can cause your knees to collapse inward while squatting and running.

Rolling these muscles will optimize your mechanics to prevent injury and increase efficiency. Efficiency means running faster with greater ease.



These muscles are often tight and short and prone to muscle strains. Rolling these can feel good and allow for better spinal position when bending or lifting.

However, when hamstrings chronically feel tight or strained it’s usually a sign that the hip flexors or quads are tight and need stretching and rolling.



This group of muscle is usually tight and short if you run. If you happen to sit for long periods at work, then it’s probably extremely short and tight, especially the rectus femoris.

Short and tight quads will mess your running up mechanically. They inhibit the gluteal muscles and compromise your stability and propulsion.

Roll the quads often, especially if you are a desk jockey.


Upper Back

These muscle can tighten up if you sit for long periods in poor posture.  If your carry that poor sitting posture into your runs, then the problem is compounded. Foam rolling these muscle can give you instant relief.

If your upper back always has knots, then posture is your real problem and will probably improve with frequent pectoral stretching.

 upper back

Contraindications for Self-Myofascial Release

(Don’t use self-myofascial release if you have the following.)

malignancy, goiter (enlarged thyroid), osteoporosis, osteomyelitis(infection of the bone tissue), eczema and other skin lesions, hypersensitive skin conditions, phlebitis (infection of superficial veins), open wounds, cellulitis (infection of the soft tissue), acute rheumatoid arthritis, healing fractures, obstructive edema, blood clot, advanced diabetes, aneurysm, hematoma or systemic or localized infection, anticoagulant therapy, febrile state, bursitis, advanced degenerative changes, sutures, organ failure, congestive heart failure, bleeding disorders

Source: National Academy of Sports Medicine, Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training


Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, 3e , Thomas W. Myers

Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally, Kelly Starrett and TJ Murphy

Author: Nick Ortego is a health coach specializing in biohacking for runners. He integrates modern methods with the ancient wisdom of yoga to help runners get the most out of every aspect of life. He is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and fascial stretch therapy.

Also check out the Nick Ortego Fitness Youtube channel.

Also check out the Nick Ortego Fitness YouTube channel.

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1 Comment

  1. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. In intend this article to be a complete reference. I will update it with any new info or clarify anything that’s not clear.

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