Self-massage hurts so good. Techniques like foam rolling are effective because as you apply pressure, they tell the nervous system to relax tense muscles, much like a massage. A few minutes of self-myofascial release can temporarily improve range of motion, reduce soreness and help you move better.
You’ve probably foam rolled your body’s big-ticket items: upper back, quads and hamstrings. These areas do plenty of work during exercise, so naturally you’d target them first. But when was the last time you released or massaged your feet? Or your neck? Or your forearms? These overlooked areas get considerably beat up during exercise and need the same TLC as any other body part. If these areas ever bark at you after a workout, keep reading. You’ll only need a tennis or lacrosse ball.
Why feet need it: If you’re exercising, you’re probably on your feet. Logging mile after mile on the trails or pushing plenty of weight in the gym means the bottoms of your feet are working hard to support your entire body. This can lead to cranky toes, heels, ankles, knees and hips.
Why your neck needs it: It’s no surprise that your neck tenses up from hours at the computer, in the car and staring at a smartphone. But your neck muscles can also become overstretched from holding heavy weights in your hands. Holding weights by your sides or in front of your body causes the shoulder girdle (your collarbone and shoulder blades) to gradually sit lower on your ribcage. This stretches certain neck muscles, particularly the levator scapulae, trapezius, sternocleidomastoid and scalenes. In other words, your neck muscles need attention, too.
When a muscle is constantly overstretched, research suggests that the body lays down trigger points (more commonly called knots) in an attempt to stabilize the muscle. These knots can become painful and cause muscle weakness. Specifically, neck trigger points can lead to shoulder pain and headaches.
How to do it: Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball to gently massage the surrounding muscles. Wedge the ball against a doorway or corner of a wall, and slowly move back and forth along the neck and traps. If you find a knot, press the ball into it and gently rotate your neck back and forth to attack the trigger point directly.
Why your forearms need it: Texting and typing do a number on your forearms, wrists and elbows. Constantly gripping heavy weights beats up your limbs, too, so whether you’re a desk jockey or gym rat, you need to roll your forearms.
Poor tissue quality in your forearms can lead to pesky issues like elbow tendonitis on either side of the joint. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are common terms for inflammation of the tendons on the outside and inside of the elbow, respectively. A little work each day on your forearms can ward off these issues.
How to do it: Place a tennis ball or lacrosse ball on a firm surface and press your forearm into the ball with your palm facing downward. Roll from the wrists to the elbow, applying steady pressure. If you find a knot, press into it while flexing and extending the wrist. Perform the same routine on the other side of the forearm with the palm facing up.
How to do it: Simply roll a tennis ball or lacrosse ball on the underside of your foot to release the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects the heel to the forefoot. This ligament often gets inflamed, leading to plantar fasciitis, a common ailment among runners. With a bare foot, press your arch firmly against the ball, moving from your heel to the ball of your foot in slow, deliberate strokes.