One of my 2019 resolutions is to be more flexible. And I don't mean more "go with the flow" (though I could definitely use a dose of that, too) -- I mean physically limber. Ever since I started running about 10 years ago, I've always been tight, tense, or sore in at least one area of my body. Flexibility naturally decreases with age, so I figure it's about time I sort this out and take advantage of the many benefits a flexible body offers: Injury prevention, improved athletic ability, longer (and leaner-looking) muscles, and above all, the ability to move around in comfort for the long-term.
So, what's the secret? I've tried every remedy in the book, and the only "trick" is compliance. You actually have to DO it, even when it hurts! Below is everything I've tried -- pick your poison. :)
Roll Out, Old School
The OG solution to tight muscles: Roll it out
. These days, your options are endless. You've got your inexpensive classics, like the basic foam roller (great for IT bands, glutes, hamstrings), a lacrosse ball (back, hips, and hard-to-reach places like your pesky piriformis), and even a PVC pipe (grab it with hands about two feet apart, then rotate it behind your head in a figure-8 motion to open up your chest and back). Or, you can opt for a trigger-point foam roller
if you're really a glutton for punishment, or, my favorite, two therapy massage balls
, which allow you to give yourself a head and neck massage. (The mesh bag is key -- keep the balls in that bag, put it on the floor, and lay down with your neck on the bag. Then, slowly turn your head from side to side while your neck is on the bag. Voila!)
Hot(ish) Vinyasa Yoga
I am not the biggest fan of yoga -- it's a little too slow for me, and I'm not naturally zen (see previous point about flexibility). But I credit warm/hot vinyasa yoga with my ability to run a marathon despite some brutal IT band pain throughout training. A Baptiste yoga studio in D.C. called Down Dog Yoga
saved me, and ever since then, I've tried to find a similar studio wherever I've moved. The heat (I'm talking 80s/90s -- not 100s like Bikram) allows my typically stiff muscles to bend a bit more than usual, and the vinyasa style gets me out of breath and makes the class feel like a workout. If you're in New York, I like the Baptiste studio Lyons Den
, and in SF, I love Yoga Flow
. Otherwise, I'll look for "hot vinyasa" or "hot power yoga" classes if I can't find a Baptiste studio. That's just me, of course -- any type of yoga should improve your flexibility!
Gymnastics Bodies (or not)
For those of you who are really serious about mobility, you should know about a program that trainers swear by called Gymnastics Bodies
. It's an online program that gives you 15 minutes of mobility exercises daily that aim to improve the quality of your movement. The principles of the program make total sense to me...I just couldn't commit to it. But I will really admire you if you do!
Instead, I refer back to this article of essential stretches
, and try to force myself to do a least a few of while watching TV. :)
That's right: I'm recommending a vibrating...foam roller
. Seriously, guys, I love this thing. It's like a massage and a foam roller in one! The spherical version
is great for sore glutes, too. Hyperice also came out with this scary-looking massage gun
recently (I saw it pop up everywhere over the holidays), which is reportedly excellent for targeting knots in your back, but it looks a little too intimidating for me.
Another (though non-vibrating) contraption I've tried is the R8 by Roll Recovery
. This is a crowd favorite among friends, but I think my IT bands are too tight to appreciate it -- it's just too painful for me to use! So I'll be sticking to my Hyperice foam roller for now.
Get a Massage (You're Welcome)
Sometimes (always?), a massage really is the best solution -- especially a deep tissue or sports massage that incorporates some stretching. In addition to promoting circulation and recovery, a good massage will leave you feeling lighter and looser (and hopefully more relaxed, too!).