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Are adhesions deep in the longissimus dorsi of your sacrospinalis in need of kneading? Let’s put it another way: Does your ass hurt?
Well, a simple (and cheap) closed-cell foam roller could be your ticket away from pain—a solution just as effective as an expensive full-body massage, and without the lavender-scented oil. Self-massage with foam rollers is all the rage among elite athletes, keg-league softball players, and even hunchbacked, deskbound Web 2.0 titans—and not just because it feels so good. In fact, it can help you train better and harder.
You won’t find a lot of scientific research on foam-roller therapy, but anecdotal love letters from physical therapists and strength coaches abound, says Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. “It helps stiff muscles relax and breaks down scar tissue, and improves your range of motion,” he says. All of which can lead to a more productive workout—and help you build more muscle and greater strength as a result. That’s why foam rollers have found a place in professional training rooms around the world.
Foam-roller massage can be useful even if you rarely find yourself in a squat rack. Flexibility and mobility become increasingly important to good health in your 30s and 40s, when your joints begin to lose some motion and lubrication, says Harold Millman, D.P.T., who practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Whether you’re an athlete or a desk jockey, you can benefit from a ride on a foam roller. Do these five exercises before your workout—or at any time—and you’ll attack the most common tight-muscle problems for men.
Massage your IT band
Best for runner’s knee
Your iliotibial band (ITB) runs along the outside of your leg from hip to knee; it often becomes overtight from high-mileage hoofing.
HOW TO DO IT:
Lie on your right side while propping yourself up with your elbow and forearm. Slip a foam roller beneath the outside of your right thigh and lift your right foot. Cross your left leg over your right and plant your left foot on the floor. Now roll back and forth for 30 seconds from the bottom of your hip to just above your knee. Then turn over and work your left ITB. To increase pressure, take your bracing leg off the floor and stack it on top of the leg you’re massaging.
Massage your Piriformis
Best for sciatica
Tension in the piriformis (between your sacrum and the top of your femur) can irritate the sciatic nerve, causing butt and hamstring pain.
HOW TO DO IT:
Sit on a foam roller and support yourself by placing your left hand on the floor. Now lift your left leg and place your ankle across your right bent knee, holding it there with your right hand. Lean to your left and position yourself so the roller is directly under your left butt cheek. Roll back and forth over the piriformis. Alternate positions to hit the muscle from different angles until you find the hot spot. Roll for 30 seconds, and then do your right butt cheek.
Massage your Thoracic spine
Best for upper-back mobility
Big chest muscles, weak back muscles, and sitting all day can conspire to cause pain from your neck to your lumbar region.
HOW TO DO IT:
Lie on your back and place a foam roller beneath your upper back, near your shoulder blades. Your feet and butt should be on the ground and your hands behind your head. Now brace your abs as if you were about to be punched in the stomach, and slowly work the roller for 30 seconds up and down your upper back—that is, from your shoulder blades to your middle back (not your lower back).
Massage your Hamstrings
Best for lower-back pain
Inflexible hamstrings can interfere with sports performance and cause lower-back pain.
HOW TO DO IT:
Sit on a foam roller with your legs outstretched, and support yourself by placing your hands on the floor behind you. Position yourself so the roller is directly under your hamstrings. Slowly roll forward and back from the base of your glutes to the bend in your knee for 30 seconds. Try it with your feet turned out and then with your feet turned in, to work the hams from all angles. You can increase the pressure by stacking one leg on top of the other.
Massage your Quadriceps
Best for jumper’s knee
Tight quads can tug on your patellar tendons, causing pain around your kneecaps.
To keep your knees healthy and loose, lie on your stomach with the roller placed under your thighs. Holding your body straight, roll yourself back and forth from hip to midthigh for 30 seconds. Bend your knees to increase the pressure.