self-massage for runners

In honor of my niece who incorporated a lot of running into her training, I offer these self-massage tips for runners and other athletes. Using self-massage as part of a warm-up routine can help improve performance and reduce the chance of injury. Muscles pumped full of blood have more oxygen at their disposal and therefore more power and endurance. Tendons and ligaments that have been warmed up are less brittle and better able to flex when needed. This simple routine addresses both of these goals.

Sit on a chair or on the floor. Begin by jostling the muscles of the upper and lower legs. Allow your muscles to be loose and think of jostling them around the bones at the center of the leg. (Easier when seated on a chair.)

Next make your hands into loose fists and rhythmically, gently pound the muscles of the upper leg. (Pretend you’re a  drummer finally getting your turn at a solo.) Keep the tempo fairly vigorous, not slow and meditative. In a pre-workout session you want to get the blood pumping. You can alternate left and right fists or clasp hands and strike the muscles together. (no picture for this one)

Target the inside and outside of the upper leg by leaning into the muscles with the heel of your hands. Inside and outside muscles help with balance and equilibrium. They benefit from being warmed up too. Keep the pressure light to medium and the rhythm fairly quick. You’re pumping blood into these muscles.

Target tendons and ligaments of the ankles and knees: We want our tendons and ligaments to be warmed up before taking the load of running or other sports. Tendons and ligaments are made of a substance that responds really well to heat or heat generated by friction. Should one twist or roll an ankle, a brittle ligament is more likely to tear than a warmed-up one.

Vigorously rub the area all around the knee (top, bottom, front and sides of knee). You can use the heel of your hands, the palms, or backs of knuckles – whatever is comfortable. You can do this through clothing, right on the skin, or by throwing a towel over the knee. You can also throw a hot water bottle or hot pack onto the knees before you run. Both of these strategies work well.

Proceed to the ankles. Ankles have many tendons and ligaments. They help provide stability for the variety of motions we ask of our bodies: bend, flex, point, brake, sprint, turn on a dime, etc. With the heel of your hand, vigorously rub all around both ankles. Get the tops of the feet, all around the ankle bones on the insides and outsides of the feet, the heels, the Achilles tendons in the back. Take a moment to move each ankle through a complete range of motion passively or actively. Be sure to rub the bottom of the foot where the important plantar fascia lies. You can do with with a tennis ball instead of your hand if you stand up and roll your foot over the ball.

Lastly, if you have a tool like The Stick, use this to roll out any muscles that were hard to reach. This can be great for the hips. A tennis ball up against the wall can also get the hips pretty well. The gluteus maximus is a very important muscle in running.

Now do some stretching and you should be ready to tackle your run or other exercise. Share in the comments if you have a favorite pre-run/pre-exercise warm-up everyone should know about.