If you’ve ever felt tightness or discomfort in your hips, back or shoulders (slowly raises hand), it’s time to add some recovery sessions to your routine. And we don’t just mean the foam roller after every sweat. The one tool you’re probably missing from your sore muscles-soothing arsenal: the lacrosse ball.
When used for self-myofascial release (aka massage), the lacrosse ball helps break up the connective tissue (or fascia) surrounding your muscles and organs that can get rigid from lots of sitting — or exercising. But what sets it apart from a foam roller is its ability to loosen up tough-to-reach spots. “It gets into the insertion points where muscle meets the fascia, like right between your spine and shoulder blade,” explains Charlee Atkins, creator of Le Stretch at Soul Annex, where she incorporates the ball. It’s also much easier to take on the road, the SoulCycle master instructor adds.
Just like the foam roller, the ball is great to use both before and after a workout. Post-sweat, your muscles are still in the contracted state. “It takes time for them to lengthen to their resting place, which is when knots can form,” Atkins says. “But the lacrosse ball takes them out of that contraction.” Pair the rolling with stretching (one muscle group at a time) and you have a match made in mobility heaven, Atkins says. Pre-exercise, the ball also helps warm up your muscles, elevating the body’s core temperature and getting you ready to tackle tough movements.
Whether you want to move better through each exercise or ease sore muscles, these five myofascial release exercises — curated by Atkins — get the ball rolling.
RELATED: Are You Foam Rolling All Wrong?
5 Ways to Use a Lacrosse Ball to Relieve Sore Muscles
1. Pec Release
Desk workers, cyclists and boxing class goers, this is for you. Give a little love to your chest muscles with this move meant to counteract that hunched-over posture and loosen up the front of your upper body.
How to: Lie on a mat on your stomach. Place the ball under your chest, about two inches below the collar bone on your right side (on top of the pectoral muscles), midway between the sternum and armpit. Bring your left hand to your forehead and rest your head on it. Take the right hand and place it on your lower back, palm up and elbow pointed outward. Massage the ball into the chest in a left-to-right motion, moving slowly. You can also simply breathe deeply, allowing the ball to release pressure. Continue holding or moving side-to-side for 30 seconds to two minutes.
2. Glute release
Your glutes, aka butt muscles, act as stabilizers as your spinning, running or simply standing, Atkins says. Relieve any tightness in that area and you can easily move in more directions. Plus, it’ll help increase your range of motion — an important advantage for weight lifters, too. (Hello, deeper squat!) If you sit most of the day, this will also get the blood flowing.
How to: Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent. Place the lacrosse ball underneath your booty, where the glutes meet your low back. Put your weight on top of the ball (using your elbows to prop yourself up on the mat for stability) and slowly roll side-to-side over it, rolling all the way to the outer edge of the hip, close to the side of the body. Then, allow your knee and thigh to fall toward the mat (like a clamshell, as shown). Pull the knee back up toward center and repeat. Continue for 30 seconds to two minutes.
3. Quad Release
Just got back from a long day of travel? This recovery move is perfect for easing sit-all-day aches. It’s also extra beneficial for runners. “The job of the quad is to extend the lower leg — a repetitive movement in running,” Atkins explains. That continuous motion can lead to seriously sore muscles, but the ball will provide relief.
How to: Sit in a 90-90 position, with both knees bent at 90 degrees, one leg placed in front of you and the other to the side. Place the ball on your outer most quad muscle (known as the vastus lateralis). Shift your weight over the front of your body, keeping your chest up. Massage one spot, then continue moving the ball up the thigh, on that same muscle, until you reach your hip. Continue for 30 seconds to two minutes.
4. Back Release
“When you’re sitting at a desk, your core can’t activate due to the placement of your pelvis,” says Atkins. “This means the back muscles are active all day.” Translation: You might feel discomfort or tightness in your low back that calls for some extra TLC with self-myofascial release. Golfers, tennis players and boxers — or anyone who does a ton of twisting movements — will also benefit.
How to: Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent. Place the ball on the left outside edge of your spine, halfway between the mid- to low-back and right on the erector spinae muscles. Your feet, butt, hips, shoulders and head should all be on the mat. Apply pressure by engaging your core. Next, come up to your elbows for extra stability and carefully massage the ball from left to right. Then, drop your left knee and thigh to the side, down toward the mat — the same clamshell movement you did for the glute release (as shown). Repeat for 30 seconds to two minutes.
5. Shoulder and Neck Release
That nagging tightness you get in your shoulders and neck is precisely where this move will hit. In other words, cancel your massage appointment — you can now find relief right at home.
How to: Lie on your back on a mat, with knees bent. Place the ball between your spine and shoulder blade, where the neck, shoulder and upper back all meet. Keep your head on the ground, chest open. Lift your hips halfway toward the ceiling for a half bridge pose. Apply pressure to the ball and slightly roll upwards (ball goes down) in a very small movement. Then, slowly lift your arm straight into the air, palm faces toward the feet. Bring it back down by your side. Repeat for 30 seconds to two minutes.