I am guilty, like most gym goers of neglecting the recovery process.
Smashing dumbbells and barbells around in the gym is great fun, yet the recovery process, muscle knots and associated soreness is definitely not.
Rolling around and focusing on trigger point self massage with a tennis ball probably isn't high on your to-do list either if we're honest...
DIY Recovery For The Spartan Warrior
Muscle pain and joint problems can be nipped in the bud with trigger point therapy - this is exactly what I'm going to show you in this guide; how to use a run of the mill tennis ball to release pressure from your trigger points, resulting in immediate relief.
By locating your trigger points (which are essentially knots in your muscle) and applying pressure to these aggravated muscle fibers for 30~ seconds at a time you'll feel an instant relief, and you can quite often rid yourself completely of pain in one session (I speak from experience!).
The tennis ball assists us with myo-fascial self relief, similar to a foam roller.
Regardless of whether you're a hardcore gym-goer or a relatively sedentary office worker (I'm at both extremes) you can and will benefit immensely from incorporating a bit of tennis ball self massage in your daily routine.
Over the years I've been lifting my left shoulder has caused me repeated issues (due to a rotator cuff impingement) through a combination of shoulder dislocations and tennis ball self massage I've been able to fully heal my shoulder without any expensive visits to the physio or the massage parlour - all I literally used was a tennis ball I found laying around in my garage.
Since then I've sworn by self trigger point therapy and I've found an overall decrease in soreness coupled with an increase in mobility since I regularly begun my mobility and tennis ball self massage routine.
A Bit Of Housekeeping...
If you have torn or suspect you have torn a muscle DO NOT apply pressure to it with a tennis ball - this will make matters worse
It is safe to perform tennis ball self massage on a daily basis, I recommend it (if this isn't possible aim for 3 sessions per week)
Hold each trigger point for 30 seconds at a time before releasing and re-assessing
When rolling to find your next trigger point roll the balls slowly and carefully, don't rush
This is going to hurt, there's no way around it (after a while you'll find a real 'zen' in it like I do, either that or I'm just sick)
The pain is more intense upon locating a new trigger point, the longer you hold (3o seconds) the more the pain will diminish, it's rewarding!
Your trigger points may not be in the exact same spot as my diagrams and images below - roll on your tennis ball a bit and find your trigger points - there is no precise GPS location for where your muscular knots will be, it's different for everyone
Trigger Point Self Massage With A Tennis Ball!
Trigger point therapy is by no means limited to the tennis ball... hell, you can use whatever ball you like, lacrosse balls and golf balls are a step above - I suggest getting used to the tennis ball before jumping straight into those (it's quite a different level of pain!).
Alternatively there's a plethora of purposely designed trigger point balls, spikes and rollers out there too, however as you probably already know I like a Spartan life and don't waste my money on unnecessary things - why spend $50.00 on a branded ball when a lacrosse or tennis ball serves the exact same purpose? Exactly.
The Seven Upper Body Spots We'll Be Targeting...
The areas of your body most likely to require self myo-fascial release include:
Shoulders Aka. Deltoids
Tightness and pain in the deltoid results in weakness and limited range of motion.
Depending on the degree of your shoulder pain/tightness I recommend trying the 2 different methods for hitting the deltoids:
- Start off standing side on against a wall - place the tennis ball on your deltoid (upper arm) and roll slightly from side to side to hone in on any trigger points.
- Provided the above method was not already too sore it's time to move on to the floor, Lay on your side with the tennis ball between your shoulder and the floor - roll around like you did on the wall to hone in and apply pressure to any apparent trigger points (you'll be applying a lot more pressure utilizing this method).
Your lats attach to your shoulder blades (scapula) as seen in the diagram above - excessive tightness in your lats can lead to impingement and various imbalances in the shoulder.
If you want to avoid any potential shoulder issues I recommend taking care of your lats (trust me, shoulder pain isn't fun!).
There's 2 ways to hit this trigger point successfully, they include:
- Laying on your side with the tennis ball underneath your arm pit while your arm is rotated outwards.
- With your tennis ball between your back and a wall, with the ball located below your shoulder blades.
Rotator Cuff Aka. Teres Minor & Infraspitanus
Trigger points, soreness and injury to these 2 rotator cuff muscles is often caused by excessive overhead movements (in our case, the overhead press).
There's 2 ways to hit this trigger point successfully, they include:
- Laying on your side with your elbow at a 90 degree angle.
- With your tennis ball between your back and a wall, with the ball located just outside of your shoulder blade.
This is without a doubt the most painful pressure point for me!
Neck/Shoulders Aka. Trapezius
Tightness in the traps results in an increase in the risk of shoulder and neck pain - make sure you're releasing pressure from your trapezius muscles regularly.
Once again, you can hit the trapezius via 2 methods, wall or floor... I recommend using the floor.
- Lay on the floor with your tennis ball perched in one of the two bulges on the side of your neck - have your knees bent while you do so in order to move around slightly to apply more pressure/hone in from a slightly different angle.
- Repeat for other side of trapezius muscle
Chest Aka. Pecs Minor & Major
Rounding your shoulders constantly from tasks like sitting at an office desk can result in tight pectorial muscles - this tightness can quite often end uip resulting in internal shoulder rotation, causing shoulder pain and issues.
There's only 1 real way I've found to work in order to release pressure from the pecs:
- Lay on the floor with your tennis ball propped under your chest, roll around on the tennis ball to locate your trigger points and tight spots - I suspect you'll find these around the pectorial insertion (near your shoulder).
- I've seen other people advocate doing this one against a wall too, however I've never been able to get the same pressure or hone in on each spot as well, so I personally recommend sticking with strictly ground game for this one.
Back Aka. Levator Scapula
Poor posture = sore levator scapula.
The levator scapula attaches from your cervical spine to your shoulder blade.
In order to hit the levator scapula properly you're going to need to utilize a wall for this one:
- Place your tennis ball in the top corner of your shoulder blade - using small movements roll around the tennis ball until you hone in on the spot - trust me you'll know when you find it!
- Want to hit it even harder? Raise your arm to take advantage of a full range of motion while rolling out the levator scapula.
We can also utilize our tennis ball to reduce the risk/onset of carpal tunnel syndrome!
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a result of the inflammation of the median nerve in your wrist (see labelled diagram above) to become inflamed - I'm fortunate enough to have not suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, but those I have encountered with it find it extremely painful and generally got carpal tunnel via daily repetitive movements.
Here's a few methods utilizing a tennis ball to overcome carpal tunnel syndrome:
Grasping the tennis ball in the middle of your hand, squeeze and hold for a count of 5.
Release and repeat.
Utilizing a table top - place the ball on the table and roll your palm repeatedly over the ball.
Focus on both circular motions as well as up and down.
Holding your tennis ball in one hand massage your other wrist by moving the tennis ball in a circulation motion along the tendon of your wrist.
Stand up while placing your hand flat on a bench top.
Place your tennis ball under one finger at a time, stretch each finger for 5 - 10 seconds, by doing so you'll be stretching out the tendons which run from your fingers and through your wrists.
The Seven Lower Body Body Spots We'll Be Targeting...
I can almost guarantee you that your ITB will have a number of sore pressure points.. I recommend foam rolling up and down your entire ITB with a traditional foam roller, however you will find a number of trigger points on the upper portion of your ITB.
Place your tennis ball on the ground and lay sideways - roll directly from your knee all the way up to your hip - this is where you'll find the majority of your trigger points as mentioned. If you've never stretched your ITB before I do recommend starting off with a light foam roller as jumping straight into tennis ball self massage on the ITB is extremely painful.
If you spend a large amount of time sitting down each day (which shortens the TFL) you will find it to be quite tight.
Once again. lay side on with the tennis ball on the floor. You'll find your TFL between your hip bone and your ITB.
Roll around until you find your trigger point, then hold for 30 seconds.
Your calves, comprised of the gastrocnemius and soleus are more than likely to have several trigger points.
In order to release the pressure from these trigger points:
Raise yourself up on your side with the tennis ball on the side of your calves, just underneath your knee.
Roll from your knee down to your Achilles tendon, stopping and holding on any trigger points you locate along the way.
Due to the width of your calves you may need to roll up and down in several different 'tracks' to cover all areas.
Once again lay side on with the tennis ball on the floor. You'll find the main trigger point for your glutes to be slightly further back (posterior) in relation to your TFL.
Hip rotators Aka. Piriformis
The piriformis is a small hip rotator muscle that seems to cause people a lot of big problems.
The easiest way to hit the piriformis' trigger points is to essentially sit on the tennis ball until you locate the trigger point, it won't take you long to find it.
It's worth mentioning that you may get a shooting pain down your leg upon applying pressure to this trigger point - this is completely normal so just grit your teeth and bare it.
Too much to handle? Straighten your leg to reduce the amount of stretch in the hip rotators.
Tight peroneals can lead to knee pain, so I highly recommend loosening them up with your tennis ball too.
In order to target your peroneals lay down on your side with the tennis ball on the outer side of your leg, just below the knee.
Stop and hold for 30 seconds once you've located a pressure point before moving on.
Although the foot doesn't actually have any specific trigger points, applying pressure with your tennis ball is a great way to loosen up the fascia and increase mobility.
Place your foot on top of your tennis ball and roll the tennis ball around all areas of your foot while applying as much pressure to the targeted leg as possible.
Roll each foot for 30 seconds, as I mentioned since there's no specific trigger points just continue to move the tennis ball for the duration.
SJ, I have a sore _______ what should I do?
I recommend releasing all of the above trigger points with your tennis ball regularly, however here's a bit of a 'cheat sheet' so to speak in order to target specific areas:
If you've injured your neck focus on releasing pressure from your trapezius.
If you've injured your shoulders focus on releasing pressure from your trapezius, deltoids, pecs. rotator cuffs and scapula.
If you've injured your back focus on tennis ball self massage with your glutes, TFL, hip rotators
If you've injured your hip focus on releasing pressure from your glutes, TFL, hip rotators.
If you've injured your chest focus on releasing pressure from your pecs and deltoids.
If you've injured your knee focus on releasing pressure from your glutes, TFL, calves
You don't need to fork out tons of money to your physio or masseuses in order to live pain free and mobile.
Yes, tennis ball self massage is unpleasant but it certainly does get results, you'll feel better after your first session - I guarantee it.
After releasing your pressure points you'll find a bit sore, but this pain will soon go away (and you may get bruising on your first go, but it's unlikely).
Lastly, if you found this guide useful please do me a favour and share it with your friends - the more people that can cure their muscle aches and pains themselves the better!