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AFTER THE GYM: 3 PIECES OF KIT YOU SHOULD HAVE AT HOME

One of the big advantages of going to a gym or working out with a personal trainer is that you needn’t worry about finding the space or the cash to fill your home with all manner of gym equipment. Having a set of dumbbells under the bed or an exercise bike folded away in the cupboard is one thing, but if you’re looking to get the most out of your training time then it’s fair to say they’ll only get you so far.

But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t have anything fitness-related lying around your house. In fact, far from it: it’s well worth splashing out a few pounds on a couple of bits and pieces of fitness equipment to keep your sessions going when you get back from the gym.

But the three things I’m going to recommend you buy probably aren’t what you’d be expecting. And what’s more, they have nothing to do with training and everything to do with post-gym recovery…

1. FOAM ROLLER

What is it?

Even if you’re not all that well versed in fitness equipment you’ll probably have heard of foam rollers, or at least seen one being used down the gym. In simple terms, foam rollers are cylinders of firm but slightly padded material, either smooth or bevelled, that can be used for self massage (or self-myofascial release, if you want to get technical) to relieve muscle soreness and tightness.

Foam rollers used to be fairly niche pieces of equipment really only used by professional athletes and sports coaches. But as technology has advanced and fitness has become part of more people’s daily routines, nowadays you can pick up a decent foam roller relatively cheaply in your local sports shop or supermarket.

What’s it used for?

Painful knots and muscle tightness—over even quite broad areas of the body—can be relieved by lying on top of a foam roller, and rolling the affected area back and forth over it. This method uses nothing more than your own body weight to apply pressure to the painful area, and because you’re in charge of where and how you do it, the foam roller is a great way of relieving muscle problems without resorting to expensive treatments or massages.

For example…

Because of their size and shape, foam rollers are really useful when it comes to relieving tightness in the hips, arms, shoulders, upper back, and the legs—including the iliotibial or “IT” band, a broad tendon that runs down the outside of the thighs and is a common cause of discomfort among runners, rowers, and people working weights into their fitness routine for the first time. If you find you’ve got pain in your IT region, try lying on your side on top of a foam roller, so that it’s positioned just below your hip. Supporting yourself on your arm, edge yourself along the roller so that it presses against the side of your thigh. Repeat this a few times on both legs to help loosen those muscles, increase blood flow, and get some movement back in your aching legs.

Foam Roller

2. HOCKEY BALL

What is it?

It’s a ball. You play hockey with it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What’s it used for?

Okay, so a foam roller at least is a proper piece of sports therapy equipment, but a hockey ball? Well, it might sound odd, but if you’re into your fitness and workout regularly, a hockey ball (or for that matter a baseball or tennis ball) is a really useful addition to your home kit.

Just like the foam roller before it, the size and denseness of the hockey ball makes it an ace piece of equipment for relieving muscle soreness. But while the foam roller can be used to relieve soreness over quite large areas, the hockey ball’s size and shape makes it really useful for dealing with much more localized areas and trigger points—that is, knots in muscles that can send pain and discomfort radiating out to other parts of the body.

For example…

From the knots of muscles we all get from time to time in our legs, calves and hips to the muscles either side of the spine (that’s either side of the spine, not directly on the spine itself!) to the hockey ball is a great way of applying more localised pressure to release muscular tightness.

A perfect example of that is the piriformis, a pear-shaped muscle in the centre of each of the glutes, which is really prone to tightness and injury. Lie flat on your back with your legs bent upwards at the knee, to form a triangle with the floor. Place the hockey ball at the side of your glute, just below and behind the hip bone, and slowly lower the leg on that side downwards, so that the ball is pushed deep into the muscle underneath. Hold that position for a few seconds, then lift the leg back up. Repeat that movement a few times, and that uncomfortable tightness should slowly begin to release itself.

3. GOLF BALL

What is it?

It’s small, white, and covered in dimples. And you play golf with it.

What’s it used for?

You’ve probably worked this out already: if the foam roller is good for working large areas of the body, and the hockey ball works more localised areas, the golf ball will really let you target individual areas of soreness even more directly.

For example…

One of the best ways of using the golf ball is to relieve tightness in the sole of the foot—in particular, the region surrounding a flat band of ligament tissue called the plantar fascia. Pain and tightness in this area—which can radiate along the foot or up into the Achilles, the calve, and even the hip—is often caused by overtraining, poor running or weightlifting techniques, or by wearing uncomfortable shoes. It can also be caused by not stretching or warming up properly; when it comes to warm-ups and pre-workout stretches, most people concentrate on their legs, and neglect to stretch their feet. For all those reasons, pain in the heel, arch, or sole of the foot is a really common complaint.

So if you’re struggling, try this. Place the golf ball on the floor, and slowly roll your foot over it, pushing down slightly as you go, until you find the area where it’s most painful. Then apply a little more pressure to the area, pushing downwards with your leg as hard as you can, rolling the ball around slightly so that the surrounding area is worked as well.

For such a common injury, it’s worth bearing in mind that you can do this anywhere. Take your golf ball with you to work. Put one under your desk, or under the kitchen able. Keep one under the settee. Wherever you have a spare few minutes and can safely kick off your shoes, use the golf ball to help release some of that tension and get that movement back in your feet.

Golf Ball

BUT REMEMBER…

It’s only natural that after working out you’ll feel a bit of soreness or discomfort for a few days while your muscles work to repair themselves, and when it comes to relieving that soreness these three bits of kit are relatively inexpensive and still really effective. But remember, there’s a difference between the kind of soreness that comes from working and then repairing muscles and tendons, and the kind of soreness that comes from repeated, regular injury.

If you’re finding yourself struggling to get over the same aches or pains every time you work out, there might be something amiss in your technique, or you might be neglecting to warm up or stretch things out properly. And as always with these kinds of things, it’s easier to treat the causes, before they become a problem, than it is to repair the resulting injury. If you’re in any doubt, have a chat with your PT or gym instructor.

Gym Equipment

 

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