Whether you’re a high level athlete, a professional bodybuilder, a recreational lifter or just someone trying to lose a couple lbs, you need to include soft-tissue work in your workouts/training sessions. Everybody and I mean EVERYBODY in the entire world has soft-tissue limitations in the form of trigger points, adhesions or knots as it is most commonly referenced to. By moving everyday (daily tasks or sporting events), by holding positions for prolonged periods of time and even by slouching on your couch for hours, your body will develop trigger points that will cause some sort of restriction in your muscles. Whether that translates into a restricted range of motion in your joints or by referred pain to other areas of your body (the most common one being headaches associated with trigger points in the upper back and neck region), trigger points affect your daily activities and your workouts, so it is very important that they are taken care of; otherwise that could lead to bigger problems like tendonitis/tendinosis, busitis, joint pain, pulled and strained muscles and so on.
The number one option and obviously the most effective one would be to get manual therapy work done. But the problem is that I don’t know too much people that can afford manual therapy 1-2 times a week! Therefore, self-usable tools are a valuable thing to have at your disposal; this way you can take care of your soft-tissue quality by yourself and not spending thousands and thousands of dollars on manual therapy. I still encourage everyone to get some manual therapy done every once in a while (once every 1-2 month if possible). As valuable as these tools are, they don’t do the same job a qualified professional will do.
That being said, there are tons of soft-tissue work tools available on the market, with the foam roller being the most common one.
I really like the foam roller, but let’s face it: when someone has been foam rolling on a daily basis for over 6 months, these things don’t do much. With that in mind, here’s my top 3 soft-tissue work tools:
1. PVC Pipe
Probably one of the cheapest options available, but also one of the most painful (read: effective) tool you can use. The PVC pipe is basically a logical progression from the foam roller. This is definitely not an option for beginners who have never used a foam roller as you will cry for your mom the first time you try it! The PVC pipe is best used for quads, IT band, calves, glute maximus, adductors and lats.
2. LaCrosse Ball
Another very cheap, yet effective tool. The lacrosse ball will do a very good (read: painful) job, just like the PVC pipe. The lacrosse ball is better suited for smaller muscles hard to target with a PVC pipe or a foam roller. As a fair warning, you should try a tennis ball first and progress to a lacrosse ball when it gets too easy. The ball is best for plantar fascia (bottom of foot), calves, glute medius, TFLs (hip flexor), infraspinatus and teres minor (rotator cuff) and pecs.
The thera-cane is definitely a more expensive option, but still under 40$, and totally worth it. With its very unique shape the thera-cane is built to work on muscles usually hard to access, like the ones in your upper back and neck region. It’s probably the most addictive soft-tissue work tool ever; I have one in my living room, and every single time I watch TV, I end up using it for 10-15 minutes. The thera-cane is best for rhomboids, levator scapulaes, supraspinatus, teres majors, pec minors and upper, middle and lower trapezius.
Give all of these a shot if you haven’t already, you will feel the benefits immediately!