5 Key Trigger Points for Maximum Workout Recovery
Whether you’re cranking through high-mileage days or crushing heavy-lifting sessions, the right post-workout treatment for your muscles can help them recover faster.
Pounding the pavement and pumping iron comes at a price. Whether you’re a seasoned gym rat, CrossFitter, trail lover or urban runner, you’ve felt firsthand how working out takes its toll with tight glutes, sore hamstrings, shin splints and shoulder pain—and that’s just for starters.
A solid recovery routine helps relax your muscles, improving your range of motion so your strides are longer and your lifts are more complete. It also helps you repair muscle damage, so you can go hard again tomorrow without worrying about injury. In other words, consider recovery your ace for the long game.
Regular stretching and massage are a good place to start, but if you struggle with chronic tightness or soreness is mounting as the miles pile up, you may need a more rigorous approach. Enter: Trigger point therapy. This method of myofascial release (a fancy term for muscle tissue relaxation) can be self-administered at home with a tennis ball. Smaller and more versatile than foam rollers, tennis balls release contracted muscles by applying pressure directly to specific trigger points, or localized spasms in your muscle fibers that result in a knotted feeling. Trigger point therapy improves circulation and blood flow to these areas, speeding up the healing process.
If you’re ready to give this DIY technique a try, grab a tennis ball and target these five trigger points.
Runners and lifters work their chest muscles hard, resulting in tightness that can affect posture. To release tension in the pecs, lie face down and place the tennis ball in the divot between your chest and shoulder. Inhale and exhale deeply, causing the ball to press into your pectoral muscle. The ball should move a few millimeters with every breath, helping distribute the pressure. “Be gentle here, it’s a sensitive area,” says K. Aleisha Fetters, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Chicago.
If you struggle with shin splints, you’re not alone—according to multiple surveys, the tibialis muscle that runs alongside your shinbone tops the list of most commonly injured areas for runners. To ease the pain, lie on one side, legs extended, and place the tennis ball directly under the part of your shin that hurts. (If it’s your inner shin, you’ll be working your top leg; outer shin, you’ll be working the leg closest to the floor.) Adjust your body so that you can control how deeply the tennis ball presses into the muscle. Hold the pressure for 30 seconds, making micro movements with your leg to allow the ball to roll up and down the shin, dissipating the pressure.
Shoulder mobility is key for lifting, pushing and pulling, and the muscles around your scaps determine that mobility. Lie on your back and place the tennis ball between the shoulder blade and spine. Press into it, using your bodyweight, and hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat. “This is great for relieving the tension that we all hold up here that can limit our performance in sport,” says Fetters. “Shoulder mobility is absolutely huge to our ability to move optimally.”
The area high up on your butt is a perpetual sore spot for most runners. To ease the discomfort, start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended. Place the tennis ball under one glute. Then, lean back onto your elbows, allowing the ball to travel higher up and outward toward your hipbone. Move slowly until you feel an area of tension. Hold and breathe until you feel a release. (Use your hands against the floor to raise or lower your hips, moderating the amount of pressure.)
Your foot is your sole connection point to the ground when you run and has more than 200 muscles, tendons and ligaments that need a little TLC. From standing, place the tennis ball beneath your arch. Press into it, then use your foot to roll it back and forth in tiny movements until you find a trigger point. Hold for at least 30 seconds.