Brooklyn-based trainer and nutritionist Michael Feigin explains why stretching and massaging is so crucial to maintaining your body, and how to do it on your own.
It doesn't matter if you work out every day or if you are a weekend warrior -- odds are at some point you have ended up with tight, sore muscles. So it is important to master the art of self-massage (Get your head out of the gutter!).
Sometimes it's neither practical nor economical to get yourself to a spa and spend an hour and a chunk of change getting a massage. But by keeping a few simple tools around the house, you can give yourself some amount of relief and actually end up with a host of benefits: more energy, more restful sleep and better workouts with quicker recovery time.
We'll skip over the portable massagers that you can purchase out of magazines and on late-night infomercials. Those are adequate but unlikely to delivery more than the most brief, superficial relief. Here's what you want:
Foam Roll. It is what it sounds like, a three- or four-foot long cylindrical piece of foam core. The idea is to get on the floor (your bed won't provide a hard enough surface) and place the roll between yourself and the floor. Then proceed to roll out the tension of all your muscle groups. This technique is called "direct myofascial release" and it provides for the release of muscle tension and improved circulation to the tight muscles. Note: depending on how much tension you have, this technique may be shockingly painful at the outset. The more often you do it, the sooner it will be less painful. You can find the Rolls at Perform Better.
Rolling Pin. Yup, same thing you would use to roll out a pie crust. Only you are going to use it to roll out your muscles. It's the same idea as the foam roll, only you can control the amount of pressure you apply. It's a great technique for the quads and calves, but, understandably, it's a little difficult to get to your back -- unless you have a friend come over and roll ya. But then it's not self-massage, is it?
Tennis and golf balls. These are my personal favorite. Again, like the foam roll, lie on the floor and place a tennis or golf ball underneath you. Allow the ball to press into the tight soft tissue, avoiding bone as that can be both painful and injurious. Roll around for bit until you find a tight, tense area (we call them "pressure points") and then lie still, trying to relax over the ball and letting the tension drain from your body. Again like the roll, this technique will take some getting used to, but once you have mastered it, then, truly, will you be happy.
You can take advantage of self-massage whenever you feel the need. Pre- or post-workout, pre-bedtime, when you wake up in the morning. There is no harm in getting rid of that tension.
The most important thing to remember is to relax as much as possible while you do it. If you feel yourself tensing because of pain in a particular area, focus your attention on your breath and try to let your body go as limp as possible.
Michael Feigin, MS, CSCS, is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a DUMBO, Brooklyn-based health and fitness company. For the last 25 years, Michael has helped thousands of New Yorkers (and folks from other parts of the world) achieve their health and fitness dreams.