One of the things I love most about running is its simplicity—you really only need yourself, and hopefully some shoes. However, there are a lot of other products on the market that claim to help improve performance or recovery. Some really are miracle workers, others are not really worth it in my opinion. Today I’m here to show you what’s in my toolbox, my at-home massage, stretching and strengthening gadgets made from simple household objects you probably already own. Of course, always consult with a doctor, PT or massage therapist for long-term treatment.
When you need to release tension in your glutes and piriformis (aka your booty) there are several simple solutions. First, try sitting/rolling on a tennis ball. If that’s too soft try a softball, and finally the queen of self-help treatment tools: the lacrosse ball! I carry a LAX ball pretty much everywhere I go, especially anytime I travel or am sitting for a while. You can usually find stray tennis, softball or lacrosse balls, and they’ll do the trick as good as any massage ball on the market.
2. A Child’s Bouncy Ball
A lot of runners suffer from chronically tight hip flexor muscles, particularly the psoas (If you never knew you had a psoas you should read up on it here). Sitting for long periods of time will cause the psoas muscle to shorten and in order to maintain good running posture it’s important to keep it loose. Watch this video on how to stretch and release the hip flexor muscles with a child’s bouncy ball. I suggest a medium-sized ball (rather than a LAX ball) for this to eliminate the risk of injury to your abdominal organs. Leave it to your PT to dig “deep” into your psoas, it’s not worth the risk of self injury.
3. Golf Balls and Water Bottles
DIY Version: Rolling your foot out with a golf ball can do wonders for sore feet. (Watch How) You can also throw the golf ball in the freezer to create an ice massage which is particularly helpful for plantar fasciitis. Another DIY version of the ice massage is rolling out your feet with a frozen plastic water bottle.
The Splurge: FOOT RUBZ™ MASSAGE BALL -The tiny spikes on this little ball give it a one-up on the golf ball. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis it’s worth the money.
4. The Giant Peanut: What on earth is it?
DIY Version: My good friend and teammate Jackie Drouin was kind enough to introduce me to this magical massage tool when she made one for our team in college. Somehow I inherited it, (lucky me) but really it only cost her a few bucks to make. What is it you ask? Simply two softballs (or you could use lacrosse balls) duct-taped together side-by-side. This peanut shaped roller allows you to work out tight spots in your back without hurting your spine (which falls nicely into the groove). I also find this works incredibly well for rolling out my upper hamstring, calves and even quads.
The Splurge: If the peanut roller doesn’t quite dig deep enough into your legs, then I honestly believe the Roll Recovery R8 Roller is worth your money. I love the R8 Roller because it delivers so much deeper force, similar to an actual visit to a massage therapist. You also don’t have to lie down and roll on top of it. You can use it standing up or sitting down, and its still small enough to easily pack when you travel.
5. A Beach Ball
Speaking of travel, it’s always helpful to give yourself a little extra lower back support on the plane or in the car. While there are a lot of useful products specifically designed for this, the simple DIY version is an inflatable beach ball. My old chiropractor taught me this one. You only need to blow a few puffs of air into the ball and then place it behind your lower back. It’s great because the firmness is adjustable and you can deflate it and easily fit it into your bag.
Research has shown that dynamic stretching yields better results than static stretching. Most of my stretching involves a rope of some sort. You can buy stretching-specific ropes, but the DIY versions work just as well. You can buy rope for a few bucks at your local home improvement store. Ask them to cut you about 8-10′ of rope and make sure you get the ends fused so that it doesn’t fray.
7. At-Home Slideboard
Perhaps you’ve used a slideboard at a gym or at a physical therapy office. It’s basically a long slippery mat that hockey players, speed skaters and yes, even runners can use to improve strength, stability and speed. I’ve used the slideboard before as a part of my rehab routine for a hamstring injury, but when I traveled I needed an alternative solution to keep up with my PT exercises. Slideboards can cost $99-$2000, but don’t worry, there’s a much cheaper solution: carpet sliders (used to move furniture). For about $5 you can be doing exercises such as sideboard leg curls at home.
If you need a full-sized sideboard for your therapy or training, this website even shows you how to make your own for less than $50.
*If you’ve never used a slideboard (or done any of these PT exercises as a part of your rehab routine), check with your physical therapist or trainer to make sure it’s a safe option, especially when dealing with injuries.
So, that’s just a little preview of some of my running gadgets. I have a few others, and I’m always willing to try more. What are your favorite recovery tools, both DIY and on the market? Even with all of the recovery tools and visits to massage or physical therapy, running is still a pretty “cheap” sport—I think this shirt pretty much sums it up: