Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tips and Tricks to Keep you Rolling

I would be lying if I said my education, athletic background, and experiences as a student physical therapist haven't helped me become a better triathlete.  Over the years I've picked up some tips and tricks to ease my aches, soothe sore muscles, and just plain feel better.

I received the The Stick as a gift long before I began triathlon.  My roommates parents in undergrad had purchased a few and I was the lucky recipient of one!  It's easy to travel with, use on your own legs and let someone else you on your back.  Though its tough to get pin point deep tissue spots with The Stick it works out tight muscle tissue and can help you identify deeper areas that may need more attention.  It's somewhat expensive for such a simplistic device and though I've never tried it, I hear a rolling pin works well too.

The Tennis Ball
As runner's and/or triathletes, or anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet a tennis ball can work wonders for achy arches.  Relieve plantar fascia pain by rolling your foot over a tennis ball for a few minutes 2x/day.  Be aware that pain on the sole of the foot can also be referred pain from trigger points in the soleus muscle of the calf (deep to the gastrocnemius).  You can search for trigger points in your soleus by using your thumb to press into the medial side of your lower leg or even using the tennis ball on the area.  The tennis ball can also be very useful in relieving piriformis/gluteus (butt) pain/tightness.

The Double Tennis Ball

Let's face it - triathletes and cyclists spend a lot of hours in a flexed position on the bike.  This can affect posture, comfort, and overall biomechanics of everyday movement.  The double tennis ball can work wonders to help stretch the thoracic spine into extension, relieve tight paravertebral muscles and even manipulate your own back if you want.  Simply get 2 tennis balls and a roll of athletic tape.  Tape the balls together by taping around both balls a couple times.  Then do a couple layers of tape at the junction of the two balls. You will want to line the tape at the junction up with your spine when using this contraption.   Align the balls up along your thoracic spine.  Lay over the balls, supporting yourself with your elbows, to your own point of comfort.  Allowing yourself to lay all the way over the balls (perhaps quickly) could result in a self manipulation.  If your muscles are very tight along the sides of your spine this may seem quite uncomfortable at first, but it will help you straighten up once you're off the bike.

Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate
I personally don't use this one yet.  1-2 tbsp per day of tart cherry juice concentrate can help reduce inflammation.   Peer reviewed studies have been done with results showing less markers of inflammation in the blood after certain workouts.  A number of middle aged marathoner friends stand by this and say they've never felt better while training for a marathon.

Ice Bath
I do not use ice baths often enough, but after a hard race they are a must.  Especially if you are preparing for another race in the not so distant future.  The ice bath can help ease aches and pains by decreasing inflammation and actually promoting blood flow to deep muscle tissue.  Ice baths after training sessions can keep an athlete training hard while avoiding injury.  If you've never tried an ice bath before give it a go, or at least a trash can full of ice water for your legs!

Compression Socks
After long hard runs and bricks I like to sport my CEP compression socks.  They help my legs recover and feel better sooner.  I especially like the compression socks for travel after races - airplanes and long car rides when you are stuck in one position for too long.  They ever come in awesome colors like bright green and bright pink.  Make sure to take an accurate measure of the circumference of your calf before you purchase to ensure the proper amount of compression!

Massage can be useful when timed correctly with your training and racing cycles.  I get a professional deep tissue massage during the beginning of my recovery weeks (1x/month).  The other weeks I use the stick, tennis balls, friends, and fellow PTs to work out any non sense.  Seek out a massage therapist that is familiar with endurance athletes and one that you are comfortable with.

I'm not that great at this one.  As we all know recovery is the time when you get stronger, when your body adapts to all the training you've put in.  Allow yourself time to recover both in your macrocycles and your microcycles.  I give myself one day of recovery per week, this doesn't mean I take the day completely off, I usually include a recovery swim, bike, or run (rare).

Physical Therapy
When you have a muscle strain, sprain or other pain that you can't seem to take care of seek out professional help.  It's better to find out what's holding you back and take care of it now before it costs you the entire racing season.  Physical therapists are licensed professionals able to provide biomechanical analysis of movements, functional assessments, perform dry needling, soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, manipulation, modalities (electrical stimulation/ultrasound) and therapeutic exercise.  Again, seek out a PT who is familiar with endurance athletes!  PTs can specialize in many different areas - as an athlete a PT with an athletic background, experience treating endurance athletes, and possible advanced orthopaedic or sports certification can be a completely different experience than a PT specialized in neuro, geriatrics, etc.

Do you have any tips or tricks you use to keep you rolling?  

~A leap day post by Holli M. Finneren, SPT~


  1. I travel with golf balls - they are smaller, cheaper, and harder then tennis balls. But this double tennis ball idea is genius!

    I also hate ice baths - but they are amazing in their ability to help you recover.

    1. Golf balls are great too, thanks for reminding me - I just don't own any :) Ice baths are pretty amazing - I should start partaking in them more!

      I hope to be back to DC somewhat soon! How's your training going?

  2. Love the double tennis ball idea! I'm going to have to try it out