QT: Having the Right Soft Tissue Recovery Tools for the Job is Helpful

Is there anything more laughable than the idea of anything truly being one-size-fits-all?

Over the years, I’ve made it pretty clear what I think about one-size-fits-all advice.

Coaching or training philosophy. Nutrition. Race day strategy. Recovery.

Anyone that is trying to tell you that there is only one way to do something and every other option is wrong is someone you should be very leery of.

Recovery is one area where I haven’t been as vocal about the value of having different options available. Specifically, I’m talking about soft tissue/self-massage options.

There are no shortage of recovery tools that are available.

And as far as I can tell, each one has certain things they do better than others. That said, they all have their own shortcomings as well.

Different Tools (May Be) Required

When it comes to tools around your house, odds are you have a variety of the same tool in order to do different jobs.

Saws. Hammers. Screwdrivers. Wrenches.

I have multiples of each of these tools.

Some jobs need lots of power/force.

Some jobs are a bit more delicate.

And it’s safe to say that the tool for a more powerful job won’t do the delicate job to the same level as the tool that is designed specifically for that job.

Case in point, I have a variety of different hammers.

While, in theory, they are all interchangeable you don’t need to be a construction expert to know that my sledgehammer isn’t the best tool to drive finishing nails when I’m doing trim work in my house.

As far as I’m concerned, the same rules apply when it comes to your soft tissue work.

Different Types of Recovery Tools

I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the foam roller is probably the most common recovery tool.

And for good reason!

You can do a lot of soft tissue work with a foam roller. A good form roller isn’t very expensive. And a good foam roller will last pretty much forever.

However, there is no doubt that a foam roller has some definite limitations and areas where it’s simply not a particularly good tool.

In those instances, it helps to have the right tool for the job.

Here are some different tools that you may consider adding to your soft tissue tool box, what they body parts they work best for, and where they may not be the best tool for the job.

Foam Roller:

If you don’t already have a foam roller, get one.

And if you have a dog, you may need to get two! #justsaying

Foam rollers work great for body parts with fairly large surface areas, specifically your legs and back.

Where foam rollers leave a bit to be desired is areas where you’re trying to get deeper into the muscle, like your glutes, or more boney areas like feet, shins, and neck.

The Stick:

The stick is very similar to the foam roller, but it’s a bit more effective in some of those more sensitive areas.

I use my stick to work my shins, my neck, and sometimes the tendons around my joints where a bit more precision than what the foam roller can provide is required.

The stick definitely doesn’t work as well to massage the hips/glutes, nor to go deeper into the large muscles of the legs.

Various Balls:

Holding My Balls… LOLOLOLOL

I’ve used balls of different sizes and shapes for years to do some self-massage.

One of the great benefits of using a ball is that it’ll penetrate a fair bit deeper to help release areas that a foam roller simply can’t get to.

Having some glute/hip tightness? Get on a ball and start grinding!

Plantar fasciitis issues? A ball, the smaller the better, is my the best thing I’ve ever used to massage my foot.

Balls work great for a lot of areas, but they aren’t perfect.

The ball can be really intense because of how well it digs deep into your tissue. Having a ball with a little give, like the yoga tune up balls, can help with this, but even these guys can be too much for certain parts of your body.

Roll Recovery:

The Roll Recovery resembles some sort of mid-evil torture device, and there are times it feels like one too!

I love my Roll Recovery for my legs, specifically my thighs. I can hit inner/outer thighs at the same time, and then get my quads and hamstrings too. The pressure is constant, and the size of the massage heads (which are roller blade wheels) definitely gets into the tissue pretty good.

It also works, sort of, on the calf muscles. You do have to be a bit more careful though, because if those massage heads start rolling on your shin bone it’s going to hurt!

The big negative of the Roll Recovery, in my opinion, is two fold: it’s pretty expensive and you can’t use it anywhere but your legs.

Need to get into you glutes? Sorry. Back a little tight? Nope.

It’s great for what it’s for, but it’s not the most practical item on the list if you don’t have an unlimited budget.

CTM Band:

The CTM Band combines all of the key components of soft tissue work: compression, tension, and movement.

The CTM Band works great when you have a specific spot that you want to give a little extra attention too.

But for general soreness or recovery, it would work but I’m not sure it’s the best option. Once you put the band on, it stays in one place working one area for a few minutes.

So if you wanted to get your whole calf for example, you’d need to put it on/take it off/put it back on several times.

But if you have a trigger point you really want to hammer with some pressure? This is the best tool I’ve seen, without question.

Scraping Tools:

Getting some scraping tools has been on my to do list for awhile now, and one of these days I’m actually going to take the plunge and get some!

The tools are pretty simple, but the work they do is pretty incredible.

Breaking up adhesions. Loosening scar tissue. Increasing blood flow.

The tools are legit.

The negative of these guys, however, is that you kind of have to know what you’re doing.

They aren’t rocket science, not by any stretch, but there is a bit of technique that is required to really get the most out of them.

Additionally, some body parts can be very difficult to scrape on yourself.

So that limits how much you can use them unless you have a sadistic friend/spouse/partner that doesn’t mind scraping some of those hard to reach areas for you.

Massage Guns:

These things are all the rage in some circles, though to be honest I’ve never tried one.

The massage gun is a powered massager that provides procussive forces to massage to your muscles.

For really fleshy areas, like your thighs and calves, this would probably feel pretty good and be quite effective.

It would probably also work for some areas of your back and shoulders.

I find it hard to see a massage gun working in most bony areas, including your feet, shins, and around your joints.

Moral of the Story

At the end of the day, regula soft tissue work really should be a part of your routine.

That is, if you want to reduce your risk of injury and feel good as your miles add up over the weeks/months/years.

As such, having a variety of different tools in your tool box is only going to make the process easier and more effective.

You don’t need to get all the things at once, but as you continue along your running journey I’d encourage you to keep accumulating different tools as you go.

Because having the right tool for the job makes doing the job a lot easier!

What is Your “Go To” Soft Tissue Tool?

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