Ah, it’s that time of the year again, time for New Year’s resolutions! While many people will be taking the plunge and dedicating some time and energy to fitness goals, the real challenge is sticking to these New Year’s resolutions for more than a month! There are many reasons why people don’t stick to their workouts and fitness New Year’s Resolutions. Some of them are just facts of life, such as time commitments, financial concerns, and lofty expectations.
Two common reasons for not sticking to your fitness resolutions that I have observed are soreness from the initiation of a new program and plateaus in your progress. These are much more manageable and something that I think are sometimes related to mobility issues that can be addressed.
For the person just beginning a fitness program, muscle soreness and tightness after performing new exercises is essentially expected. But there are some ways to reduce this soreness and get over the initial hump a little easier. Movement and massage are two prime examples. For the person that has some workout experience but aren’t working with a qualified professional, they often have some muscle imbalances and movement restrictions because someone isn’t helping them address their weaknesses. Everyone wants to work on their strengths, right?
These are both obvious reasons as to why you want to work with a qualified strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer that can help identify and address your mobility concerns. But what if you don’t have the access to a great coach and just want to start a home workout program or buy a generic gym membership?
Here are 3 tools that I recommend for you to get more out of your programs. For a small amount of money, you can start your own package of tools that you can use at home between workouts. Use these tools daily for 10 minutes and you’ll move and feel better between workouts, which will allow you to get more from your programs.
Foam rollers are a staple for many people and certainly not anything new. While foam rollers are popular at the gym before a workout, having one at home to use between workouts is a must as well. Many people consider a foam roller a “self-myofascial release” tool. I’m not sure if we are making any significant fascial changes when we foam roll, but the combination of the compression on the tissue and movement associated with foam rolling likely has a positive effect on neuromodulating tissue soreness and tightness. What does this mean for you? You’ll feel better and move better when you are done!
How to Use a Foam Roller
I recommend two uses for foam rollers – 1) as a generalized full body program, and 2) on specific sore muscles. I would recommend rolling out the major hot sports of the body, such as:
- Low back
- Mid back
- Posterior shoulder
I essentially recommend 5-10 full length rolls of each area, performed in a slow and controlled pace each day. If specific muscles are sore after a workout, I would emphasize these and perform another 5-10 reps, however, if you find a specific point of discomfort, you can pause at that spot for 10 seconds. Take a few deep breaths and try to relax. I would also recommend performing a few thoracic spine extensions while rolling the mid back. Here is a great video demonstration from Eric Cressey. He hits a few different areas, however, the general concepts are the same and these are great examples. There are also a few trigger point ball examples towards the end, but more on that later:
What Foam Roller to Buy?
I currently recommend two foam rollers, one for beginners that are just looking to incorporate foam rolling and another for more advanced uses that don’t mid spending a little more.
- For Beginners: Perform Better Elite Molded Foam Rollers. Pretty much a great basic foam roller that you can get for around $25
- For Advanced Users: The Grid Foam Roller. When you are ready to step up to a more firm roller, the Grid is by far the best on the market. I don’t really think all those ridges and nubs do anything, but this is a great firm and durable roller that will last you a lifetime. It’s a bit pricier between $30 and $40, but worth it.
While foam rollers are great, they aren’t perfect for every body part. Essentially, if you can’t put a lot of weight through the foam roller, it doesn’t feel like you are doing much. If you notice the above list of muscle areas does not include the entire body. To hit more specific areas, a massage stick is a great tool and essentially a foam roller with handles! You can use your hands to put more pressure into the movement when body weight isn’t available. I see a foam roller and massage stick as complementary, and a massage stick is great for:
- Outer side of lower leg
- Upper traps
As you can see, pretty important areas, and spots that foam rollers really don’t hit well. Not only do these areas get sore, but limitations often result in poor performance when training.
How to Use a Massage Stick
I use a massage stick just like a foam roller, with about 5 full length rolls on each area. If sports are sore, which is pretty common in the calf and upper trap, I will pause there for about 10 seconds. Here is a demonstration I have used in the past on how I use massage sticks for the forearm:
What Massage Stick to Buy?
I have used several massage sticks in the past and must say that there is only one I would currently recommend as it is by far superior to the others:
- TheraBand Roller Massager+. I was skeptical when I first used this massage stick, assuming that the ridges were just a way of separating themselves from the rest of the market. However, the combination of the ridges and the material of the roller makes for a great combo and the best roller on the market! The material grabs the skin well and the ridges create a drag sensation in addition to the compression.
Trigger Point Ball
We have progressed from a foam roller, to a massage stick, and now to a trigger point ball, the third component of a great self-help tool package! Even with a roller and a stick, there are still some areas that are just too hard to get to. As you can see, we are getting more specific with each tool. Here is what I use trigger point balls for:
- Specific trigger points in the glutes and hips
- The QLs
- Upper and middle trap areas
- Posterior rotator cuff
- Plantar fascia
If these are areas of concern for you, you’ll want to get some sort of trigger point ball to hit these spots with ease.
How to Use a Trigger Point Ball
Using a trigger point ball is a little different from a roller or a stick, I usually don’t recommend rolling the body on the ball, but rather just stick to a trigger point release. These balls can get to a small specific spot, so you can hit multiple points in each area, holding each for about 10 seconds. Here is an example of using a trigger point ball on the posterior shoulder:
What Trigger Point Ball to Buy?
I typically use a couple of different trigger point balls, depending on how firm I want the ball to be. I would recommend the softer balls for beginners and firmer for advanced users. I think lacrosse balls are great, but they are pretty firm and don’t have a small nub to use, making them less than ideal for some areas. Here is what I recommend:
- For Beginners: Trigger Point Therapy Massage Ball. These are a little more expensive than lacrosse balls at about $15, but they are softer and have a little nub than you can wedge into different areas, which I like. This is a good starting point, but if you weigh a lot or plan on using it exclusively for the glutes, the brand new Trigger Point Therapy X-Factor Ball is a little larger and more firm. I use these a lot.
- For Advanced Users: SKLZ Reaction Ball. You know those little yellow reaction balls that you drop and bounce all over the place? A friend just recently turned me on to these as trigger point tools! They work great! They are firm and have great little nubs to really get in to the tissue. Plus you can usually find them for under $10.
By combining these 3 tools, you’ll have a perfect home kit to help you move better and feel better between workouts, which means you’ll get more out of your programs and hopefully stick to those New Year’s resolutions!