When the subject of sore, tense muscles comes up around fitness buffs and runners, the conversation inevitably circles around muscle rollers. Muscle rollers are designed to help alleviate pain and tension in the muscles through self-massage. Self-massage is an important part of any workout as it helps eliminate muscle strain and tension, thereby preventing injury. They come as either a foam roller or what is known as “the stick.”
Foamy or Sticky?
A foam roller is basically what the name says. It’s a large roller that is thicker than a pool noodle and is usually 3 feet long or more. The stick, on the other hand, is much smaller, and is hard where the foam roller is firm, yet giving.
Both are great options, which you choose will depend on where you want to use it, if portability is a factor for you, and which muscle groups tend to be where you feel the most pain.
The foam roller can be used either at home or the gym, but isn’t designed to be stowed easily in your carry-on luggage due to its bulk. It’s great for holding on trigger points (where you feel pain after a workout), and it uses the body’s own weight as pressure. Basically, you roll your body over the foam roller to help work out the trigger point. It’s great for areas like the back, the hips and the quadriceps. One of the downsides is that it can be super awkward to use on certain parts of the body.
Now, there is more than one type of foam roller. Some have a grid with raised areas on it, others are smooth, and some have knobs all over them. There, of course, is the standard log that comes in either low or high density. Deciding on which takes some trial and error to see which one will work best for your muscles.
…or Little Stick?
If you need something more portable, the stick may be the way to go. It’s smaller, but does come in various lengths. You will be using your hands to create the pressure with the stick. The stick is also good for rolling across specific muscles, especially the legs, with the calves and the hamstrings being particular favorites of stick aficionados. A lot of stick users prefer it to the foam roller even on the neck and the shoulders.
A lot of runners and hikers prefer the stick, mainly due to its ability to work on legs and hamstrings. Also, being able to pop it in a backpack means cyclists also prefer the stick. In other words, if you’re the type to be on the move versus at home or in a gym, the stick will be the personal muscle massager of choice.
Use It Right
Make sure you know how to properly use either of these products. When used improperly, they can cause more discomfort, or even injury. They seem intuitive, but you can easily make the pain or strain worse.
Don’t use either the foam roller or the stick on the exact spot you have pain. Sue Hitzman, the developer of The MELT Method, told Huffington Post in an interview, “If you iron out areas of inflammation, you can increase inflammation. And if you are in pain, your body will be too stressed to repair itself.”
In other words, don’t head straight for the area with the most pain and stay on it. Make sure you focus indirectly on the painful spots before going directly to them. You don’t want to make an injury worse or add another one on top of it, especially when a little care can prevent this.
Don’t focus too much on one spot. Go for an allover roll, versus one specific spot. Again, this goes back to direct/indirect pressure. If you do a full body roll, you can really help stretch out all the muscles instead of just going to town on one or two specific groups. And don’t roll too fast. You need to give all of your muscles time to relax before moving on to the next area. Take your time and work on your whole body.
Form and posture matter. It’s not just perfecting the form during your workout, you need to have good posture for rolling, too. If good form is going to keep your workout going strong and help prevent injury, keep it in mind for rolling, too.
Don’t use it on your lower back. Most experts recommend stopping once you reach the end of the rib cage. Use it on your upper back, then switch to using it on the muscles that support your lower back.
Pick and Choose
- Muscle strains and tension are not fun, especially to athletes, or even just those who enjoy a daily workout. Being able to iron out the kinks and knots yourself is important, and makes sense. Using either a foam roller or the stick post workout will definitely help keep your muscles in tip-top shape, so you’ll be able to keep going later.
- Before you purchase either, make sure to keep in mind what type of workout or athletics you participate in. Are you out running, hiking, or cycling? You may want to head out and get the stick. It’s easy to stow in a backpack and works great on the muscle groups you will be working most.
- On the other hand, are you more inclined to use the gym equipment, or do yoga or pilates at your house? Then the foam roller may make more sense. It helps with the muscle groups all over the body, and you don’t necessarily need something small enough to stash in a backpack.
- Evaluate your workout, your muscle pain, and where you tend to feel muscle strain the most. Try to find a local running/cycling store, or a regular athletics store that may carry the different rollers. This way, you can try before you buy. In the case of deciding which foam roller is right for you, being able to try out the ones that are smooth versus the ones with knobs or grids can definitely help you decide which is best.
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