FOCUS ON YOUR FASCIA
7 ways runners can better care for this important tissue
Even if you’ve been strengthening muscles crucial to running health, such as the legs, the transversus abdominis, and the pelvic floor, you may still be neglecting something important: the tissue that encases those muscles, also known as the fascia.
Injury, inflammation, or poor biomechanics can cause the fascia to stick to itself and not be able to adapt, says Equinox Health Advisory Board member Tom Myers, the Walpole, Maine-based director of the worldwide seminar organization Anatomy Trains. That can lead to injuries elsewhere in the body, as well as a diminished range of motion, decreased running efficiency, and slower recovery between workouts.
When most people think of tending to fascia, they think of foam rolling—but mindless, lengthy sessions won’t do you much good, per Myers. He suggests rolling slowly, toward the heart: “Thirty seconds of torture is better than five minutes of nothing,” he says. New-York-City-based yoga instructor and Equinox Precision Running coach John Cianca recommends pausing anywhere that feels especially tense to “allow the muscle to relax into the foam roller as you breathe.” In the moves below, Cianca, wearing the ASICS GEL-NIMBUS® 21, demonstrates proper rolling technique.
Beyond the foam roller, a ball can be used to go deeper on large muscle groups like the calves and hamstrings, or to target hard-to-reach areas around the hips and the sacrum. Yoga, the ELDOA method, and Tai Chi can also be beneficial for fascia. Myers recommends a technique called Gua Sha, which uses a tool much harder than a foam roller to soften tightness in tendons.
Myers prescribes the following set of seven moves, once a week, after a run. There’s no need to even take off your sneakers.
Above-the-knee foam rolling with vibrating foam roller
“The most important area for runners is just above the knee, where the tendon comes down on top of the patella,” per Myers. Spend a minute or two with a vibrating foam roller on a low setting, rolling the center of the thigh. Then, turn your knee out and roll for 15 to 20 seconds to get the distal vastus medialis, then in for 15 to 20 seconds to get the vastus lateralis. Repeat on the opposite leg. The vibrations “break up adhesions.”
Use a lacrosse or similarly hard ball to roll the vertical center of the upper calf, between the two heads of the gastrocnemius, for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Lower hamstring rollout
Use a lacrosse or similarly hard ball to roll between the hamstring tendons, just above the ‘kneepit’ on the back of the leg, for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Glute attachment rollout
Sit with your leg extended and find your glute attachment just below the gluteal fold on the outside of your thigh. Place a ball or hard roller between the floor and the outer edge of your thigh bone and roll down the outside back of the upper thigh and glute for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Gua Sha ankle therapy
Take the edge of a soup spoon or dull butter knife and firmly drag it upwards over the tendons around your ankle, from the foot over the ankle onto the lower leg. Spend no more than 45 seconds on each ankle. “If you bruise it, you went too far, but if it’s just red, it’s cool,” Myers says. “If you get a zingy pain down your foot, then you hit a nerve. Don’t do that.”
Tai Chi Lunge
“If I were king of the world, all runners would do Tai Chi,” says Myers, again, because it promotes dorsiflexion. This move is his favorite for runners: Sink your pelvis down toward one ankle while keeping the other leg straight and spreading the arms. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to standing before switching sides.
“Runners set themselves in plantar flexion,” Myers says, meaning their toes are often sticking down. This move “ensures they keep themselves in dorsiflexion,” in which their toes are pulled up towards the knees. With your palms planted firmly onto the floor and fingers spread wide, lift your rear into the air with your feet flat (or close to flat) on the floor, so your body makes a V shape. Hold for 30 seconds.