How Runners Can improve Lower Leg Muscle Fitness Using the Foam Rolling Technique

Mostly suitable for runners, there is a popular exercise technique called foam rolling, which is also referred to as self-myofascial release training. It mostly involves exercise that improves the structural integrity of some of their leg muscles using a lacrosse ball or a foam roller. Even though popularly known as the foam roller for runners, the self-myofascial release tool is also used by athletes, therapists, and coaches as part of an everyday routine exercise. The technique itself involves applying pressure and massaging various parts of the fascial system, including the lower leg muscles to get rid of any stiffness and inflammation. Most professional runners do the exercise for 5-10 minutes before and after running, every 3-4 times weekly. During the exercise, the muscles are relieved of tightness and stiffness. Simply put, foam rolling is a highly important exercise technique for runners and athletes who want to improve their fitness levels, especially when it comes to lower leg muscle fitness.

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Benefits of Foam Rollers for Runners 

The most important benefit of foam rolling for runners is that it promotes fitness levels of some of their most important muscles involved in the sport. For starters, foam rolling is known to relieve and release tightness and muscular tension from lower leg muscles and the surrounding fascia. This tightness and tension are believed to originate from repetitive physical activities such as running, resistance training, and other kinds of repetitive sports or training activities. Foam rollers are also effective in improving muscular flexibility and fascial muscle range of movement, especially when combined with dynamic stretching. The technique can also help decrease the risk of muscular injury. As pressure is applied to some specific points of the lower leg muscles, runners can benefit from the rolling exercise as it helps in quick muscle recovery and improves muscle function. This technique can help runners maintain healthy, elastic, and highly functional muscles to keep them competition-ready.

Primary Lower Leg Muscles Top Target When Foam Rolling 

When using the foam roller there are various points that runners should target in order to improve lower leg muscle fitness. Some of these fascial muscle points include the tibialis anterior, the calves, the thighs, and the gluteus muscles.

1. Tibialis Anterior

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The outermost part of the front of the lower leg, which originates from the shinbone is scientifically known as the Tibialis Anterior. The main function of the tibialis anterior is to pull the toes up as the ankle is flexed, during motion activities such as running or walking. In other words, the tibialis anterior muscles stabilize the ankle. To work out the tibialis anterior using the foam roller, one should start at some point near the knee downwards and do the respective reps.

2. The Calf Muscles 

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The back part of the lower leg is referred to as the calf, which is composed of two major muscle groups. These include the Soleus and the gastrocnemius calf muscle.

• Soleus Calf Muscle: This is the bigger flat muscle found in the middle of the calf, which takes care of flexing movements from the ankle joint.
• Gastrocnemius Calf Muscles: These are found slightly on the side of the calf and a responsible for effectuating forceful movements such as jumping.

To exercise the soleus calf using a foam roller, a straight motion is required. However, a slightly inclined motion is needed when exercising the gastrocnemius calf muscle using a foam roller.

3. Vastus Medialis 

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Extending to the knee, at the inner part of your front thigh, there exists a muscle known as the Vastus Medialis, which is one among the most important lower leg muscles for runners. In order to work out this muscle using a foam roller, a movement similar to a plank is required. You can also rotate the thigh gradually until you feel some pressure on the said muscle.
The Vastus Lateralis is a large muscle located on the lateral side of the thigh. It is also another highly important lower leg muscle for runners, meaning that it needs to be well-developed and properly functioning. As a matter of fact, it is the most powerful and largest thigh muscle. To work this muscle out, you will need to lie on your side so that you do a side plank motion using the foam roller.

4. Vastus Lateralis

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The Vastus Lateralis is a large muscle located on the lateral side of the thigh. It is also another highly important lower leg muscle for runners, meaning that it needs to be well-developed and properly functioning. As a matter of fact, it is the most powerful and largest thigh muscle. To work this muscle out, you will need to lie on your side so that you do a side plank motion using the foam roller.

5. Gluteus Muscles 

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These are also known as the glutes, comprising of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus located in the thigh. The Gluteus are also among the most hard-working leg muscles when running or walking, even though they are barely noticed most of the times. Some people regard them as not part of the lower leg muscles. For athletes, however, these muscles also need some working out with the foam roller. To work out the glutes, you need to assume a position nearly similar to that used when working out the vastus lateralis, though your body will be required to assume a more inclined position in this case.

Emily is founder of BodyShape101.com, a blog where she and her associates talk about exercise, fitness, and yoga. Their aim is to help people like you to achieve perfect body. BodyShape101 is concentrated on exercise & fitness tips, and making the most out of it. She is also a mother of one and she tries to find balance between her passion and her biggest joy in life.

The Importance of Maintaining Healthy Connective Tissue Especially Fascia

Our bodies are made up of four different types of tissue: epithelium, nervous, muscle and connective tissue. The first, epithelial tissue, covers our organs and the surface (skin) of the body. Muscle tissue is responsible for what we do everyday…movement and there are three types of muscles tissue, smooth, skeletal and cardiac. The tissue that constitutes the nervous system is concerned with communication. Then finally, we have connective tissue, the most abundant of all the tissues. Connective tissue includes ligaments, tendons and fascia. Ligaments connect bone to bone (think about all the ligaments just in the foot alone) while tendons connect muscle to bone, think about how the biceps has two tendons, one that connects to the shoulder and the other near the elbow. Fascia are sheets of connective tissue that give support and stability for tissues, organs and muscles throughout the body. Fascia covers the body from head to toe, by way of a three-dimensional web-like structure that includes superficial fascia that lies underneath the skin and deep fascia that covers muscle. Fascia stays flexible as long as you keep moving, stretching, and breathing but if the body becomes immobile (i.e. injury, inactivity) then it can become less flexible and eventually restrict our movements. This is a big reason why it’s so important to keep fascia healthy.

“Understanding fascia is essential to the dance between stability and movement – crucial in high performance, central in recovery from injury and disability, and ever-present in our daily life from our embryological beginnings to the last breath we take.”  – taken from Anatomy Trains.

source: http://bandhayoga.com

If a ligament or tendon is continuously stretched beyond normal length, for example, when someone sprains the same ankle multiple times, there is a chance that the area could experience some joint laxity. Connective tissues do not receive a great deal of blood supply and as a result, recovery time typically takes longer for injuries like sprains and tendonitis.

According to H. David Coulter, author of the award-winning book, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, “ligaments and tendons can accommodate no more than about a 4% increase in length during stretching, after which tearing begins.”

The goal is to train diligently and never neglect your connective tissue, especially when it comes to your fascia. Strengthening connective tissue is vital but at the same time, continue to stay active and focus on keeping these tissues hydrated and supple. Include the following as part of your exercise prescription: regular massage, yoga, dynamic warm-up before each session and use a foam roller regularly. By including these on a regularly basis you’ll maintain strong and healthy connective tissue and experience improved performance, increased joint range of motion and your body will simply feel better.

References

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, H. David Coulter, Body & Breath: CA, 2001.

The website Anatomy Trains, with Thomas Myers

Suggested Reading

Movement: Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook, On Target Publication: CA, 2010.