An Easy Way to Become a Stronger Athlete – Foam Roll

An Easy Way to Become a Stronger Athlete – Foam Roll

by Coach Sarah

sarah on foam roller smaller

I’d like to propose two things about this dreaded wonderful pastime.

  • Foam rolling 5-10 minutes a day will make you more relaxed in the water, more powerful on the bike, and faster on your runs.
  • Let’s have a 30-day ET Foam Rolling Challenge, where the winner gets a FREE 60-minute massage at the end of the challenge. I’ll give details at the end of this article!

Here’s the deal—I’m a massage therapist, a cycling coach, a triathlon coach, and an athlete who’s faced enough injuries to keep any physical therapist in business for 2 months straight. I am currently the pot calling the kettle black, because I am not foam rolling nearly enough (i.e. hardly ever). And my calves are tight, my plantar fasciitis won’t go away, and my right hip hurts all the time.

Yet I tell my athletes all the time to foam roll! Along with multiple massage therapy clients! Horrible, yes. So—I too will partake in this 30-day foam rolling challenge that I’m about to lay the groundwork for, except that I can’t win because I’ll be giving the massage at the end.

And I have excuses for not foam rolling at least 5x a week. LOADS of excuses. Kids … work … travel … too tired from training … dogs playing with the roller while I’m rolling … it hurts … can’t find the roller … no time … what good will it do …

I know you have the same excuses (“you” meaning anyone reading this article who doesn’t roll at least 5x a week!), because I hear the excuses all the time when I’m massaging people, or coaching, or in my head as I tell myself the same things!

So here’s the amazing thing about rolling that makes it WORTH YOUR TIME, even when you don’t have the time: Foam rolling helps hit the Ctrl+Alt+Delete button in our muscles. We are always so busy training our muscles to do hard work—harder and harder over time—and eventually they listen, and forget what it is like to simply “be” and relax. Foam rolling allows our muscles to maintain the adaptations we’ve placed upon them with our training, while reminding those muscles how to go back into an optimal resting place.

This is a real, genuine physiological phenomenon. It is not pretend, or make believe. It is fact. And here is the kicker: Muscles that are asked to put forth hard efforts are at their strongest when they come from an optimal resting length. These are the muscles that can move a joint most freely, soundly, and efficiently, which in turn results in power, speed, and “free & relaxed” propulsion.

I don’t want to belabor the science here, because we endurance athletes are people of action. So here goes the 30-day ET Foam Rolling Challenge details, including muscle groups to focus on:

  • Scout’s honor—keep track of your rolling minutes for the entire month of November 2015.
  • You do NOT need to register for this challenge!  Just complete the form below AFTER your month of rolling.
  • Submit your total minutes of rolling time via our easy online form below no later than December 2, 2015.  No other form of submission will be accepted.
  • The top time will win a free 60-min massage (even though that individual will technically be the one who needs it least!). In the event of ties, I will draw a name.
  • Focus on 1-2 body regions daily, to keep it manageable.
    • Upper Body: Lats, Obliques, Rotator cuffs (use tennis ball on your rotator cuff muscles), Pectoralis muscles
    • Hips: Quads, Hamstrings (a 16-inch softball works great on Hamstrings), Glutes (a 16-inch softball works great on glutes), Low Back, Inner Thighs, IT Bands
    • Knees: Quads, Hamstrings, Inner Thighs, IT Bands, Calves
    • Ankles: Calves, Feet (use tennis ball or golf ball on the arch of your foot)
Not sure how to foam roll? Check out our foam rolling video demo page!

Not sure how to foam roll? Check out our foam rolling video demo page!

  • Have a goal of doing this 4-6x/week. (Or daily, for you overachievers!) 🙂 You can read, watch TV, zone out, meditate … all kinds of wonderfully relaxing things while you do this!
  • DON’T GIVE UP, especially in the first 5-7 days when it HURTS LIKE HECK.       If you aren’t a foam roller up to this point in time, I KNOW you are getting a pit in your stomach just thinking about putting a painful roller on your IT Bands and Quads! But you MUSTN’T give up. It WILL get easier. I promise!!!!!
  • When you really hate it, just take comfort in knowing that multiple others of us (myself included) are doing this too! And we are all suffering loving it together!

Where will you be on November 1st? Where will you be on November 30th? If you do this, I guarantee you that you will be in a better athletic place at the end, barring all else staying equal! (e.g., not eating all of your kids’ Halloween candy in the meanwhile.)


Need a foam roller?

foam roller blackThere are multiple kinds of foam rollers available. My personal favorite is the high density version, such as the one pictured below.

Check out our team sponsor, Naperville Running Company, various retailers online, or a Physical Therapy office for rollers. The 36” variation allows you to lie on the length of the roller (from base of skull to tailbone) and stretch out your chest/pec muscles, along with using it for core exercises. The 18” versions are easier for transporting, and are plenty fine for the sole purpose of foam rolling. Be prepared to spend about $15-$40 for a roller, depending on what brand you go with!


Sarah Wangerin is a certified USA Cycling coach, USA Triathlon coach and Licensed Massage Therapist with Experience Triathlon.   Learn more about Coach Sarah, Experience Triathlon and Experience Massage at

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