There are a wide array of myofascial release tools on the market today. This blog is designed to help you decide which myofascial tool is best for you and to provide tips on which muscles you should target with each myofascial release tool.
Myofascial release is some serious business for those of us that take your hobbies and sports seriously, but it’s also an amazing tool for self care and reducing stress even if you aren’t as active as you’d like to be. Myofascial release, or self massage, allows us another opportunity to take care of the body, while also providing an opportunity to reconnect with the mind and the breath. Even if you don’t hike mountains or drop in on crazy waves, massage can help heal tired, cramped, or unhappy muscles.
There are numerous studies showing the benefits of myofascial release techniques, but if you are new to the term, click over and read this blog from our friend Anika, who regularly leads classes that guide students through releasing the adhesions of the fascia.
Our then 8 year old took her myofacial release class and was instantly hooked on how good it felt and I noticed that it helped her harness a more loving and positive disposition as well as an overall calmness that isn’t necessarily her natural demeanor.
Related Blog: What is Myofascial Release and why you should do it
A couple of quick tips that will make you more successful as you start releasing.
Be sure to breathe. If you are clenching your teeth, holding your breath or making noises, you are likely going to deep or hard into your massage. Everyone has different thresholds of pain and all of our bodies are unique so when in doubt, less is more.
Focus on breath and relaxation when you are using any massage tool.
1 | Foam Roller Myofascial Release Tool
Pros: Simple and Affordable. Easiest to use.
Cons: Doesn’t travel well. Hard to use on certain areas.
Best Areas It Targets: Back and glutes
Foam rollers are the best introductory tool to myofascial massage and they are also the easiest to use compared to other massage tools.
These long, round cylinders that come in a variety of lengths, textures and firmness. If you are new to self massage, start soft with something like this. Once you get accustomed to the feel or if you just want to jump right in, this is the one we love the most. For those who want a bit of intensity, try a high density roller like this or try one with knobs like this.
They are also easy to find in sporting good stores as well as Target, Walmart, and Amazon.
The majority of foam rollers are 3 feet long, which is great because you can stay on the targeted areas easier, however, this means that they aren’t the most space efficient myofascial tool. There are one foot options like this, which are good if you like rolling but don’t have a lot of storage space.
Because of their size, foam rollers don’t really travel so if you need something while on an adventure trip, a traditional foam roller will take up way too much space.
Foam rollers are hard to use on certain areas of the body. Although much easier to use from the get go, some areas require the user to use strength to hold themselves up to target quads, IT band, or upper back.
I use my foam roller daily for the back and hips. When I am introducing clients to self massaging techniques, I always start with a foam roller on the back. Using a foam roller is easy to learn and because you are on a cylinder it help to minimize the pressure on the spine. Another great area to target with a foam roller is the hips. By sitting on the foam roller, you can get broad sweeps through the fleshy part of the gluteals.
If you train any adventure sport from a home base foam rollers are great. If you live small, maybe not so good. Anyone who has some referred fatigue in their low back or that their sport requires a lot of low back and hips. My hikers, bikers, skiers really can’t live without a little extra love and attention to the posterior chain,
2 | Tennis Ball or Lacrosse Ball for Myofascial Release
Pros: Small, easy to pack, and affordable. Great for the nooks and crannies of the body.
Cons: May be too intense and can be hard to target specific areas.
Best Areas It Targets: Upper traps, pecs, and calves
If you are super active person, using a orb or tennis ball as a myofascial tool can be a life saver.
These days I’m not sure if tennis and lacrosse balls are used more for their appropriate sport or as myo-fascial tools.
The size of a ball allows you to target areas that are harder to reach with a foam roller.
While the foam roller can massage the superficial gluteals, a tennis or lacrosse ball can get into the deep muscles of the glutes, like the external rotators of the hip and break up even the toughest adhesions. Tight hip flexors plague a lot of athletes and a lacrosse ball into the abdomen does a great job of releasing this problematic area.
It’s definitely not a beginners tool!
Using this device can be challenge and requires a general understanding of the human body. Due to its small size, it does lend itself to more pressure, meaning it can get deep into tissue really fast. This may be too intense for some people, however, this type of self massage does an amazing job of breaking apart adhesions.
Keep in mind that the lacrosse ball is a much more intense sensation than using a tennis ball. A lacrosse ball can bruise you much like a deep tissue massage gone horribly bad. If you aren’t accustomed to deep myo-fascial massage it can leave you feeling beat up.
Also, using either of these balls as myofascial release tools requires a little more understanding of your body and the size and density of the ball adds a little challenge because you can quickly move off the target area.
Ball type myofascial tools are great travel tools since they are small, easy to pack and quick to use. When we travel, we always have a tennis ball or other small myo-fascial tool like this orb with us. It takes up very little space and helps us recover not only from our sports, but also using it on the lower back after a long drive or flight feels wonderful.
There are many areas that you can use these type of myofascial tools for but three of my favorite spots are the upper traps, pecs, and calves, which are hard to really get to with a foam roller.
The harder you train the more serious you should take your recovery
Any extreme adventure athlete can benefit from a lacrosse ball. Climbers will love how it can get into the upper back and forearms quickly, hikers and backpackers will enjoy how it triggers relief in the calves, and surfers can target the muscles of the pecs easily with any of these ball type myofascial release tools.
If your are active, enjoy deep tissue massage, or train hard, then this is the next step. The tennis or lacrosse ball is an awesome myofascial release tool for recovery. If you are backpacking, traveling abroad, or live small, these are great because they take up very little space.
3 | The Peanut Myofascial Release Tool
Pros: Two points of contact, inexpensive, travels easily
Cons: Effective for limited areas of the body
Best Areas It Targets: Paraspinals
I almost didn’t include the peanut because it is a tool with limited use. However, it is amazing for the para-spinals, the muscles that run along your spine.
A peanut is going to provide two pressure points at the same time making it great for getting deep into those postural muscles. The two balls are connected in the middle which will allow them to roll together so you can work both sides at the same time. While you could use it for other areas like the quads or calves, the other myofascial tools listed in this blog are better.
You can make your own peanut with a sock and two tennis balls pictured above, but a lot of the myofascial release tool kits sold on Amazon include a peanut and so now you know what to use if for. If you tend to have tight back, check out this peanut lacrosse ball.
The peanut is a great myofascial release tool to add to your arsenal but it designed only for certain areas of the body. It can travel easily, takes up less space than a foam roller, and provides the back, quads, and calves some amazing massage.
4 | The Wave5
Pros: 5 tools in one so you can hit many areas plus, it comes with an app.
Cons: Not as travel friendly as the balls. Can be confusing without the app.
Best Areas It Targets: Low back, forearms, feet
The Wave5 is great because, with 5 different tools, you can get to all of the areas of the body.
The Wave5 is like the cadillac of myo-fascial tools. It is smaller than a foam roller but bigger than a tennis ball. The Wave5 has a variety of different textures to all the tools. This allows you to pick the way you want to get to a given area.
The Wave5 comes with an app that can take some of the guess work out of your treatments and can hold you accountable to follow a treatment through to the end.
The Wave5 is bigger than a ball so if you travel light it maybe more space than your willing to give up. It is harder than the basic white foam roller so beginners may not be ready for so much sensation. Also, it has a lot of tools which, without the app, can be confusing for a beginner.
The Wave5 is great for anyone with low back issues and tight hip flexors (which typically go hand in hand). The 1/2 ball on the Wave5 is great for getting deeper into the low back than a foam roller does and the smallest tool is great for getting into my forearms.
This is a great myofascial release tool for anyone looking for an all in one tool or if you are looking for the next evolution in myofascial release.
Click here to purchase The Wave 5 and use coupon code: NOMADS for an extra 10%off.
5 | The Stick Myofascial Release Tool
Pros: Simple to use. Very effective for certain muscles.
Cons: Limited certain areas of the the body and requires effort.
Best Areas It Targets: Quads and calves
A must for runners or cyclists.
The stick is a rolling pin looking device that allows you to roll it over trigger points. It allows you to use as little or as much pressure as your arms can provide. By the nature of the device and the fact you need to two hands to operate is makes it harder to misuse.
The stick is great but the user has to generate the pressure with the arms which can be good and bad. In general, when people are doing self massage they should be focusing on breathing and relaxing which can be a challenge when you are exerting yourself to create pressure.
This tool was mainly created for the quads and calves. You can generate a ton of pressure or very little which is awesome.
If you run or cycle, your quads need extra love and attention. This works wonders without having to lay on the floor and hold yourself up. My runners and triathletes could literally spend hours on their lower leg if I let them.
6 | Bonus: Use a Cork Block as a Myofascial Release Tool
Pros: Simple to use. Very effective for certain muscles.
Cons: Limited certain areas of the the body and can add intensity
Best Areas It Targets: Lats
While a yoga block isn’t normally considered a myofascial release tool, it does wonders for breaking up adhesions and hydrating the lats and even the pecs.
With a block on its mid height, place it just under the armpits the edge of the block rests against the lats. Slowly shift your weight forward and backwards to give the muscles of the lats and pecs a little cross grain massage and then rest in spots that feel like they need some extra attention.
As a surfer and rock climber, my lats need a lot of attention. If you do a sport that involves a lot of lat engagement, I encourage you to give the block a try as a myofascial release tool.
Wrap Up of Best Myofascial Tools
- Foam Roller: Best for back and glutes.
- Tennis or Lacrosse Balls: Best for traps, pecs, and calves.
- Peanut: Best for paraspinals.
- The Wave5: Best for low back, forearms, feet. Use coupon code “nomads”
- The Stick: Best for quads and calves.
- Cork Block: Best for lats.
Amazon also sells some pretty rad foam roller + myofascial release tool kits like the one below. It’s awesome because it has 4 of the 5 tools that I just covered, a spiky ball, plus 3 resistance bands for doing light therapy.
Related Blog: How to fix shoulder pain with these exercises
Hopefully I shed some light on what I feel are the 5 best mysofascial release tools. Recovery is some serious business for athletes but also helpful for anyone looking to live healthier and feel their best. If you are looking for more on self massage and recovery, join Project Life where we help you live life to the fullest.