One inevitable side effect of ramping up your training load is the development of increasingly persistent aches and soreness in your key muscle groups. Left unattended, those kinks and tight spots can eventually become areas of weakness or injury, so it’s important to work out the knots and ropes from time to time. We’ve tested a few massage devices this spring, each of which has a slightly different method of application, but all have a similar purpose of working your problem areas before they become limitations.
The Original Orb Massage Ball has been one of our favorites for a couple of years, so we were excited to see the new Orb Extreme, with larger and more prominent bumps to apply even more targeted pressure to your sore spots. Its performance lived up to our expectations, as this is a great device to sit or lay on top of, then let gravity do the work of applying the pressure. Shifting your weight slightly will move the pressure in one direction or another as you need it, and you can roll the Orb along the full length of your muscles. The regular Orb Extreme has a 4.5” diameter and is ideal for targeting tight spots in your calves, IT band, hamstrings, and glutes. We’ve also used it for low back knots and spasms.
Another variation of the Orb Extreme is the Mini version, which has a 3” diameter and is perfect for working itself into deeper muscle areas and providing more aggressive focused pressure. The Mini has proven to be our favorite device for targeting the tops of the calves as well as the upper hamstring insertion areas. Both balls are made from a high density EVA/Polyolefin foam that is non-toxic and latex free, and maintains its strength and shape even with repeated use.
The RangeRoller is a variation of rolling stick-style devices, and comes in three different lengths; we tested the 16” RangeRoller Pro, which is the shortest and firmest of the three, intended to provide deeper penetration on larger muscle groups. The Pro version is recommended for athletes with an above average amount of muscle mass.
All RangeRollers use a multi-layer design, with two sizes and shapes of rollers working together; the large narrow rings penetrate deeper into muscle tissue, while the wide shallower ones provide more extensive pressure across the width of the tissue. Non-slip grip handles make it easy to apply pressure, and the rollers move smoothly and easily against the skin. We found the RangeRoller most effective on the front-side muscles groups of the quadriceps, and particularly the tibialis muscles that run alongside your shin bones. It’s also easy to massage your calves and IT band when sitting with your knees in a bent position.
If you like a little flair in your massage tools, the RangeRoller is has 14 different bead colors that can be customized in your favorite combinations, or to match your school or team colors.
Ultrarunner Jarod Contreras – who also hosts the Touching the Trail podcast – developed the Target Release sticks, which are deceptively simple in appearance compared to how effective they are at breaking up knots and spasms. They are basically firm wooden rods with a very smooth finish to glide against the skin; the rod is rounded off on one end, with a rubberized cap at the other end. You can poke and press the rounded end directly into knots or spasm points, or you can rub the entire length of the rod along your muscles for a broader and less targeted pressure. Although the rubberized end is intended to rest against something (the floor or the wall) for applying pressure on the back side of your body, we found the sticks to be much more effective when applying them with our hands on the front of the body, or other areas within easy reach.
Target Release sticks come in two different lengths. The Basecamp is 8” long, and is better suited for the larger muscle groups as well as horizontal massage. The Peak is 5” long, and is better for more superficial areas like feet and ankles, and also for working knots out of your neck. Both of these sticks are very compact, and easy to bring along with you to casually work on sore areas whenever you have a few minutes of idle time. As with all of these tools, the minutes you spend on bodywork might ultimately save you days missed due to injury.