A few months ago at the start of my ClassPass adventure, I found myself in a constant state of muscle soreness and discomfort. I am a runner; a runner with very little flexibility and even less coordination. So when I started doing workouts that involved synchronized movements AND weights, my body felt like I ran into a brick wall. There weren’t enough hours in a day to foam roll the tension out of my back and hips.
After a few failed massages, hours of stretching and buckets of sweat loss from bikram yoga, my hips and back were still as tight as frozen rubber bands. At that point, my boyfriend had been telling me for weeks to get a lacrosse ball and watch YouTube videos on how to improve my mobility. Full disclosure; he is not a medical professional and is NOT a runner. I’m usually up to speed with running research and had not heard about this lacrosse ball nonsense. Plus, I already had a morning stretching routine. So with knowing all of that information, I’m sure you can understand why I didn’t take his advice seriously.
As it turns out; not only was the BF right, but having flexibility is not the same thing as having mobility. According to Men’s Fitness, a person who has strong mobility is able to execute functional movement patterns with very little, if any, restriction in range of motion of the movements. “A flexible person may or may not have the core strength, balance, or coordination to perform the same functional movements as the person with great mobility” explains physical therapist Joe Vega, M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S.
Ok, so why then is mobility and full range of motion important? Dr. Kelly Starret, author of Ready to Run explains that maintaining and utilizing full range of motion engages not only muscles, but also joints and ligaments. Utilizing joints and ligaments help keep muscles in their proper place creating smooth and efficient movements – dramatically decreasing the risk of injury.
Maximizing mobility doesn’t have to take long nor does it require a lot of equipment. My introduction to improving my mobility included (you probably can guess) a lacrosse ball. Here are ways I use this tiny masseuse – found on Amazon for less than $5-and how it can help when a hard workout gets the best of you!
1. Body weight pressure points
Lie on the floor with the lacrosse ball underneath your back directly on the soft tissue that is feeling stiff. Your body weight will press against the lacrosse ball, which then breaks apart any stiffness in that area. Give each area 30-60 seconds before inching the ball down to a new spot.
Sometimes you will come across a trigger point. You’ll know you found one when it hurts to apply pressure with the ball. Once you come across one, stop and just rest on that area for 20-30 seconds. It is the pressure, not the rolling, that smooths out the tense fascia. Unlike a foam roller, a lacrosse ball can dig deep into a muscle and calm the hot spot. Dr. Starrett walks through the exercise in this video.
This technique is also great on the calves, hamstrings, shoulders and glutes.
2. Loosen those hips
Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle and stacked on top of each other. Place your hands on the floor in front of your body. Raise your hip and place the ball directly under the stressed area. Slowly lower your body onto the ball. Slowly move your hips around to massage the area for 20-30 seconds. Switch to the other side and repeat! Research suggests that this self-induced deep tissue massage supports the reduction of cytokines, a protein that can cause soreness and swelling.
3. Treat and avoid plantar fasciitis
Place a lacrosse ball under the arch of your foot and begin rolling over it. If you feel you need more pressure, you can stand up and lean into the ball. Continue these movements for 1 minute then switch to the other foot. To take it a step further, you can point your toes up and down when rolling explains Men’s Journal. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common injuries among fitness movers and shakers. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, over 2 million people experience this horrible pain in the heel caused by small tears in the tissue from abuse and lack of attention. Don’t let this irritating issue sneak up on you!
Now, when my body feels like a CTA bus ran right over it, I take out that small but mighty lacrosse ball and quickly go back to normal! As I learned, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!