When done properly, self-massage can be a form of maintenance between massages given by a trained therapist. Self-massage can help take care of the tightness that comes up with day-to-day training and can help break up adhesions before they cause problems. Here’s a quick guide on self-massage for runners.
All in Moderation:
Don’t zone out while watching TV and working one area alone for 10-15 minutes. Instead be diligent over your entire body and address all of the muscle groups. My personal theory is that 10-15 minutes a day are better than an hour once a week.
Be Careful if it Already Aches:
A common mistake is over-massaging an already inflamed area. Overdoing it on compromised soft tissue can lead to even more inflammation and a longer recovery. Again, focus on a particular spot for no more than 10-15 minutes, and then move on.
Take it Easy
To put it simply, our body’s muscles and connective tissues are complex and sensitive; they react to stimuli such as pressure, heat, and speed differently. With pressure, it’s a matter of easing into it and not going too hard. Which I know may not make sense, but pressure doesn’t equal depth. Going too hard too fast can cause the muscle to seize up which is the opposite of what you want since the goal is to have it release.
The Hands Have it:
Tools like foam rollers and muscle roller stick can’t sense your muscles relaxing; only your hands can do that. When using foam rollers or muscle roller sticks, occasionally stop to check in with your hands to feel how your muscles are reacting.
Know When You Need a Pro:
There is a reason they’re called professional massage therapists; they’ve spent years learning and applying these techniques. Self-massage is excellent upkeep, but know when you have a problem that requires a pro. Because it’s possible that the pain or injury isn’t one that would respond well to massage, so it would be more beneficial to have someone who is experienced helping you when things start to hurt.
My Top Tools:
A foam roller is best for covering larger areas such as the quads, hamstrings, and the IT band. Lie with the intended target on the roller and then slowly roll the full length of the muscle group, starting where the muscle begins and stopping where it inserts at the end. Ease into the massage and gradually apply more pressure by increasing your body weight on the roller.
Muscle Roller Stick – AKA “The Stick.”
Disclosure: I was given the Live Infinitely Muscle Roller Stick for review, the opinion stated below is 100% my own, and the link is not an affiliate link.
Gripping both ends firmly, use this tool to rub up and down across the length of your muscles (mostly quads, hamstrings, calf muscles, shins, and IT band). This works very similarly to its cousin the foam roller, but instead of using your body weight you’re applying the pressure with your arms. My favorite one is the Live Infinitely Muscle Roller Stick because of how sturdy it is.
Golf Ball and/or Tennis Balls
These are fantastic for rolling along the bottom of your feet and loosening up the plantar fascia. When I had some minor inflammation in my plantar fascia, I was able to clear it up in less than a week by rolling a golf ball along it. Just run across the entire length of the muscle, tendon, or fascia in a long, controlled motion.
For areas around the hips and glutes, putting your body weight on top of the tennis ball and kneading it in circles is great at breaking up tension in bony, hard-to-reach areas. A tennis ball is also great to help roll out the knots in your neck and shoulder area as well, but be careful not to put your spine over the ball.
How Hard it Too Hard?
Just like with the other aspects of training, it’s important to listen to the signals your body is sending you. Keep any discomfort as that – slight discomfort – rather than excruciating pain. What makes self-massage tricky is that, in addition to trying to read what your body’s telling you from the outside, you’re also getting internal messages. To counteract potentially overriding sensations of what your muscles are telling your brain, fall back on what your hands can feel. See if your muscles are relaxing and loosening before proceeding. There’s a level of applied science here that only a trained massage therapist can master, but as with the rest of your training, by listening to, and learning from your body’s signals, you can make progress.