Here’s how it usually goes: I’ve just come back from a great run—say, a hard nine-mile training run on Saturday morning—and I’m euphoric. I feel strong and healthy. I’ve pushed my body harder than I ever believed I could.
And then I stretch—well, I toy with the idea of stretching. Sometimes I set time limits for myself—“You have to stretch for the duration of the next two songs on your iPod.”—but then I get distracted. Maybe my dog trots over with a ball to throw or I suddenly realize that what I really need is a glass of water—no, make that five minutes in front of the fan to cool off. Before I know it, Beyoncé’s only halfway through the first verse of “Single Ladies” and I’ve already abandoned my stretching session.
I pay for it the next day. My calves seize up suddenly, feeling as if tiny pebbles are stuck deep in my muscles. My quads ache from the effort. My shins feel like shattered glass.
I recently explained this problem to a friend, and she had a simple solution: a foam roller. Better yet, she got me one for Christmas (thanks, Abby!). Mine came with a DVD, which I recommend watching at least once so you can learn a few basic moves; there are also instructional clips on YouTube. The idea is pretty straightforward: Put the roller on the floor, and roll your body on top of it, moving back and forth to massage away sore spots. Those pebbles in my calves? Gone. Tightness in my quads? Adiós.
Foam rollers come in different lengths and diameters, and some have added texture. It’s best to go to a store and try one out—just go with the one that feels the most comfortable. Balancing your body on the roller can be trying, but with practice it gets easier.
Of course, rolling isn’t a replacement for a thorough post-workout stretch. But it helps. And trust me: It’ll be the best $20 massage you ever get.