Last month, we looked at the recovery benefits of massage, which include the prevention of adhesions and deep relaxation and support. When it’s not feasible or convenient to receive a massage from a professional therapist, you can fill in the gaps with self-massage—the tools for which extend far beyond just the well-known foam roller.

What to Use

There are a range of tools to aid in self-massage. These can be as basic as golf and tennis balls—even rolling pins—or as sophisticated as the products offered in specialty stores. These include the wide range of Trigger Point Therapy products, encompassing padded balls, foam-covered stiff rollers, and oblong cigar-shaped implements with wheels on either end. Yet another approach, gaining popularity, is Yamuna Body Rolling, which uses inflatable balls for self-massage. You can also find standard-issue foam rollers at most sporting goods stores. 

The goal is to release tension, not cause more of it.

The goal of all of these products is to provide something to leverage your body weight against. You’ll either lean your weight into the tool, or push on the tool as it rests against your body. Either way, you’ll want to slowly and carefully roll from the outer edges toward the center of the body, following the direction of the muscle fibers in the group you’re working, while trying to pay attention to whether there are spots of special tension. When you do find such a spot, mindfully make another pass or two over it, or rest with your weight on it, breathing to see if it will release. 

A Full-Body Routine

Start with the bottoms of your feet, where a small ball, or Trigger Point’s foot roller works well (click here for a review of their lower-body kit). Be sure to cover the arch well, and follow the space between each of the metatarsals, which lead to your toes. 

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Move on to a bigger roller or ball to cover your calves. These can be surprisingly tender, so be gentle. You might find an especially sensitive spot where the gastrocnemius lays over the soleus, halfway up the back of the lower leg. You can rest on this spot and gently point and flex your foot to help that trigger point release. 

If your shins are up for it, you can flip over and roll them, bottom to top. Move on to your quadriceps muscles and inner thighs, rotating your position so you cover each of the major muscles about two or three times. Use your upper body to hold some of your body weight, so you can control intensity. 

Next, hit your hamstrings in the same fashion, getting the inner and outer edges of the thigh as well as the center of the back of the leg. 

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Now for a doozy: turn so the outermost edge of your thigh is positioned over your roller, and slowly roll over your IT band, bottom (just outside the knee) to top (at the hip). Take your time and breathe deeply. Be kind to yourself; this should feel pleasant, if only in a hurts-so-good kind of way. Stay away from self-torture. 

You can roll the whole back on the roller (use your abs and legs to help with balance), and a ball can help you hit trouble spots there and on the chest. Either hold the ball in your hand and press it against your body, or drape your body over the ball. 

Remember not to overdo it. The goal is to release tension, not cause more of it. If parts of your body are inflamed, resist the temptation to roll over them repeatedly—you’ll only incur more irritation. A few passes over each group a few times a week should do fine. Enjoy!

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Sage Rountree is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga. Her latest book, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery is now available for preorder on Amazon. Her extensive research and work with triathletes and ultrarunners have taught her to value recovery. She leads yoga workshops nationwide and presents regularly for USA Triathlon. Visit her schedule at sagerountree.com.