We are coming to the end of the triathlon race season and as triathletes it’s time to reflect on the year, our races and enter our “off-season” phase. In this off-season recovery or transition phase it’s important to get some rest from the demands of structured training. That’s not to say you should stop altogether, but your emphasis should be on staying fit and healthy, rather than growing your fitness. That is until you start the next macro-cycle with a Preparation or Base Phase.
It’s a time to give yourself some much-needed TLC and I would advise adding in massage to this phase. A lot of triathletes treat themselves to a full body massage or two which will work wonders to start your end of season rest and recuperation.
Massages can be expensive so many also turn to self-myofascial release (SMR). Self-myofascial release is a self-massage technique that uses tools to target the fascia within your body. When you apply these tools, you can begin to unwind areas that hold on to tension and stress. You can also improve your blood flow and circulation plus it feels great!
I have tried several SMR products on the market and have put together a guide to which one will help with your specific are of tightness.
About Massage Guns
Massage guns or percussive massagers arrived on the scene a few years ago and commanded hefty price tags but athletes and massage therapists loved them, and prices have now come down to levels that most people can afford.
I bought mine a couple of years ago and have found it very effective and convenient to relieve training tightness and niggles. I qualified as a Swedish massage and Sports massage therapist 8 years ago and have used it to add to my manual massage techniques.
The first massage gun was developed by Chiropractor Dr. Jason Wersland. After a traumatic motorcycle accident, he sought out a solution to his debilitating pain. When nothing on the market helped, he designed an improvised tool that worked and unknowingly created the first massage gun which then became known as the Theragun in 2007.
Massage guns have interchangeable massage head attachments at one end that you press against your muscle. You push a button to start rapid vibrations that massage and stimulate your muscles.
Massage guns are usually used for therapeutic purposes, such as to help relieve muscle pain. They can also be used for relaxation and to improve circulation.
The Best Massage Guns for Triathletes
The Theragun PRO is the flagship of the Theragun range and has the biggest price tag. This is a commercial-grade deep muscle treatment. It has Bluetooth that connects to a guided App which leads you through how to use the gun for your particular ailment. The gun and App will help to reduce muscle soreness, improve mobility, and increase relaxation. With a rotating arm and continuous battery life the Theragun PRO is the advanced, professional-grade recovery tool of choice for professionals and everyday people worldwide.
It comes with two batteries and a sturdy case plus six attachments.
Weight: 2.9 lbs.
Battery Life: 2 x 2.5 hours
Stroke Length: 16mm
Speeds: 5 or unlimited with the App
Pros: The App is great if you need guidance on how to use it. It comes with two rechargeable batteries and has a big stroke length. It also has an adjustable head that some may find useful to get in to hard-to-reach places.
Cons: It is quite heavy and noisy and is pricey.
The ergonomic design of this deep tissue massager makes it great for hard-to-reach places and is very light weight. The design and weight mean it is useful for all sizes of athletes and is also great for the elderly. The long batter life enables you to take it with you when you go on vacation. It uses a standard USB charge cable rather than a power supply which is useful if traveling and is very quiet thanks to a low power DC motor.
Weight: 1.17 lbs.
Battery Life: 24 hours
Stroke Length: 12mm
Speeds: 2 modes and 20 speeds
Pros: It is very lightweight and has an impressive battery life. The ergonomic design means it can massage hard to reach places.
Cons: The stroke length is a little shorter than others and there is no dedicated App. It has few attachment heads.
This massage gun is in the lower price bracket but still has an impressive specification. I found it very powerful and tend to use the two lowest levels for massage. The case keeps all of the attachments neat and tidy plus its lighter than others so you can hold for longer in the areas you need more massaging.
Weight: 2.1 lbs.
Battery Life: 6 hours
Stroke Length: 12mm
Pros: It comes with an impressive range of attachments and is lighter than other leading products. The battery life is long and has 20 speed settings. It’s good value for money and effective as a massager. The display is very clear and bright.
Cons: The stroke length is a little shorter than others and there is no dedicated App.
The Best Foam Rollers for Triathletes
Foam rollers have been a staple for triathletes and endurance athletes for many years and used correctly and regularly can make a real difference come race day. There is still a debate whether to use them before or after exercise but for me it’s after and usually in the evening to releases the physical stresses of the day.
At the end of the day, you may have more time and can count it as a treat and a piece of “me time”.
You may think a foam roller is a foam roller but there have been a few innovations and here are some of my top picks for foam rollers with a bit more versatility.
1. MOBOT Firecracker 18oz 2-in-1 Foam Roller Water Bottle with Straw – Price not available at Amazon.com
If you are like me, I sometimes forget to foam roller, but this water bottle will be on and to remind you! It’s an 18oz stainless steel, insulated water bottle which also acts as a foam roller. This multi-function bottle can not only keep your electrolyte drink cold when you are at the gym it reminds you to foam roller by making its surface available to roll out those muscle knots and reinvigorate your tired muscles.
Foam roller stainless steel hydration bottle
2. Theragun Wave Roller Vibrating Foam Roller for Full-Body (Bluetooth Enabled) – $149.00 at Amazon.com
This must be the most technical foam roller on the market which not only vibrate but is Bluetooth to connect to the Theragun App where you can customize your rolling routines.
The Theragun wave roller has 5 vibration settings which can be adjusted to your comfort level to help release soreness, reduce tension, and increase range of motion. Innovative silicone wave grooves add an additional dimension of pressure to the muscle, while providing superior traction control. You can roll out large muscle groups like the hamstrings, quads, and back, and apply pressure across areas of the body with varying surface areas, like the hip and upper back.
This device combines the benefits of a foam roller with percussive massage so could cut down the time to apply pressure as well as vibration massage like you would receive with a massage gun.
Theragun Wave vibrating foam roller with App
This is a bread-and-butter foam roller which is ideal if you are new to foam rolling. Unlike other basic model this has a 3-year warrant and extra firm high-density foam and is physical therapy quality. They offer sizes from 12 to 36 inches, and I would recommend the 18-inch size as it small enough to fit in your gym back and long enough to get and effective self-massage – even on your back and shoulders.
Foam exercise rollers help prevent muscle injury and are perfect for positioning, balance, postural and muscle re-education, spinal stabilization, body awareness and coordination, ranging and strengthening activities. These are also great if you suffer from IT Band tightness.
Best Massage Balls and Sticks for Triathletes
You will commonly see massage balls in a physiotherapists treatment room and there are various types such as trigger point, lacrosse and spikey balls. Each ball can be used for different muscles and different disorders.
I discovered the magic of the spiky ball when I was researching relief for plantar fasciitis and if you have ever suffered from this you will understand the pain level. When you first lay eyes on the ball you may think it’s a torture instrument, but it is actually very effective and relaxing. For plantar fasciitis you will need a 10cm and you can also use it for your glutes, shoulders, and upper back.
Those little spikes promote relaxation and improve blood flow. They stimulate muscle reflexes and release muscle tension throughout your body. They also help increase body awareness and aid in injury prevention and rehabilitation.
The spikes target trigger points and can reduce pain levels and improve range of motion.
Simply sit down and roll your foot over the spiky ball whilst watching TV and relief the pain and tension of plantar fasciitis.
For your shoulders and back stand with your Spiky Ball between your upper back muscles and a wall. Use your body weight to roll over the ball and apply pressure to any areas which feel tight.
For your glutes Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your Spiky Ball underneath your buttock and gently roll over the ball until you find a trigger point. To increase the pressure, let the knee on the effected side drop out to the side.
I got The Stick, Marathon Stick massager at a running show a few years ago and it’s great if you want to regulate the pressure on your muscles and also want to take it on your travels. It’s great for your calf’s, quads, hamstrings, back and shoulders. You simply hold it with a hand on each end and roll against the muscle that is tight and apply as much pressure as is comfortable to you.
The marathon stick is 20″ long with 10 working roller and was popularized by endurance runners. It’s ideal for stretching and deep muscle massages plus for warming up muscles without expending energy and it helps release muscle tension in targeted areas.
It’s great if you find laying on a traditional foam roller a bit uncomfortable or difficult.
These Kieba massage Lacrosse balls can give you immediate relief from muscle knots and tension. Trigger point therapy massage lacrosse balls relieve sore and tight muscles to rejuvenate and revitalize all areas of the body. They are very easy to use, simply lean on the massage ball and use your own body weight and gravity to relieve muscle knots and tension.
They are perfect for use while sitting on any chair, lying in bed, on the floor, or on a yoga mat. Use them at home, at the office, or at the gym. Small, portable and easy to bring along on any trip.
These are great value for money and for $12.99 you get two balls so you can share them with your fellow triathletes!
Massage Devices for all Triathletes
As you can see there are many options for home massage to give your triathlete body some much need TLC in the off season. There is a device for all budgets and for specific areas of tightness.
Self-myofascial Release (SMR) is a form tool assisted, self-massage that is used to release muscle tension, improve flexibility and boost movement efficiency. SMR can be done with a variety of tools such as foam rollers, lacrosse or tennis balls, handheld rollers, or even a rolling pin.
Foam rolling should be done before static or dynamic stretching activities, improving the tissue’s ability to lengthen during stretching activities. Foam rolling can also be done as part of the cool-down (1-2).
Is foam rolling safe? Foam rolling is generally considered safe to do if you experience muscle tightness or regularly exercise. But avoid foam rolling if you have a serious injury such as a muscle tear or break, unless your doctor or a physical therapist has cleared you first.
There are many tools to perform self-myofascial release, but if you’re using a foam roller, it will be important to only target dense areas of muscle tissue such as the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteals. Areas to avoid with the foam roller include the abdomen, low-back, chest (for women) and the neck.
“Foam rolling daily is safe, and for people who exercise regularly, it is probably a good idea,” Dr. Berkoff says, adding that “there is no consensus on how often, how long and how hard to foam roll.”