Myofascial Release Exercises for Athletes

Athletes place an immense amount of strain on their muscles and tendons especially as they increase their training and prepare for competition. Unfortunately, a common by-product of the increased activity is overuse injuries that can quickly sideline any athlete. This can easily be prevented by incorporating a form of self-massage, known as myofascial release, into the athletes training regimen.

Myofasical release is an easy, very effective way to loosen tight muscles and increase recovery time while keeping injuries at bay. This can easily be done using tennis balls or professionally made products by companies such as Rad Roller or Yoga Tune Up. When doing myofasical, try to avoid rolling directly over bone, swollen tissue or any areas that create pain of any kind. Spend as much time as you would like in the exercises below remembering to keep your focus on a steady breath. This is key. The more you can allow yourself to relax while doing these exercises, the more efficient they will be.

Foot: This can be done standing or sitting in a chair. Place the ball directly under your foot. Apply comfortable pressure and slowly roll the ball all around the bottom of the foot. Pay particular attention to any areas that feel especially tight specifically the inner and outer arches.

Feet

Hamstrings: From seated with legs extended, place the ball underneath your thigh. Press both hands into the ground to lift your hips (use blocks if needed) so you can roll the ball up and down the length of the hamstrings. Start at the sitting bones and work your down towards the knee.

Hamstrings

Hips: Lie on your back and bend your knees placing your feet onto the ground. Slide the balls under your hips so that they are right on the meaty portion of your glutes. Pick your left foot up and cross your ankle over your right thigh (if this feels like too much, keep both feet on the ground). To intensify the stretch, take both knees over to the right a few inches.

Hips

Hips2

IT Band: Lie on your right side with the leg extended sending the left leg in front of you with the foot planted for support. Slide a ball underneath your right thigh and rest your right forearm on the ground. Take a moment allowing the body to relax over the ball as you take a few deep breaths. Slowly begin to slide the body up and down over the ball starting from the top of the pelvis working your way down to just above the knee. If there is a particular area where you would like to spend some extra time, you can lower your upper body down onto the ground.

ITBAND2

ITband

Back: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Starting at the lower back, place two balls underneath your back on either side of your spine. Stay for a minute or so and then move the balls up about two inches, staying here for another minute and then moving up another two inches. Continue this up the spine and if you would like, you can work your way back down again.

Back2

Back

After you have completed the exercises above, spend some time lying flat on your back in savasana (corpse pose). Allow the body to be completely relaxed here and spend a few moments focusing on your breath. Take about 20-30 slow, controlled breaths before slowly making your way back up.

Yin Yoga for Lower Back Pain

Savasana– Lie on your back with the arms and legs extended. Take up space with your entire body. Turn your palms to face up and let the shoulders and hips melt into the floor. Close your eyes and start to draw your awareness to the breath. Focus on extending the inhales and exhales. Notice if there are any areas in your body that are tight or tense and concentrate on sending the breath into those parts of the body. Spend as much time as you would like here.

 Reclining Twist– draw your knees up towards your chest and with the shoulders rooted down extending your arms out long. Gently let both of your knees fall over to the right. Stay here for a few minutes and when you are ready to switch sides, lift the knees and lower them to the left. After you have completed both sides, spend some time with the knees drawn up towards the chest gently rocking from side to side massaging the lower back.

Sphinx– Come onto your belly. Place the forearms onto the mat with the elbows just below the shoulders and lift the chest. If this doesn’t feel well in your lower back, walk the elbows a bit forward; which will lower the chest closer to the floor. If there are any sharp pains or aches then release the chest to the floor. Simply lying on your belly may be a good enough back bend for you. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes pressing down gently with the forearms, pelvis and toes. To release, lower the chest to the floor and rest your cheek to one side for a few moments then press up and come onto your back.

Locust- From your belly, extend arms long next to your torso. Begin to lift the head, chest, arms and feet off the ground. Extend through the arms and the legs and roll the shoulder heads back towards your hips. Press your pelvis into the ground without tensing up in the glutes. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, rest and repeat twice more. (You may want to put a blanket underneath your pelvis for extra padding)

 Butterfly– From a seated position, bring the soles of the feet together and draw them away from you creating a diamond like shape with your legs. Allowing your back to round, fold forward, resting the hands on your feet or on the ground in front of you. Let your head be heavy here and keep the sit bones pressing gently into the mat. Option to elevate the hips with a blanket or block if needed. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and slowly roll yourself back up and extend your legs.

Childs Pose-Come onto your hands and knees. Bring your big toes together and sit back onto your heels. Lower your chest to rest on your thighs. If you would like, you can separate the knees wide and rest the chest towards the floor between the thighs. Extend your arms forward. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and to release walk the hands back toward the knees as you slowly lift the torso.

Standing forward fold- Stand up and separate your feet hips width distance apart. Soften your knees as you hinge forward at the hips and fold your torso over your legs. Bring your hands to opposite elbows. Let the head be heavy and continue to keep a gentle bend in the knees. Stay here for a just a couple of minutes and to release, take the hands to the ground and bend the knees lowering into a squat. You can work back and forth between the two as many times as you would like.

Savasana-Stay here as long as you would like.

Yin/Restorative Yoga for Athletes

This is a really great practice to do especially when the body is starting to feel fatigued. Yin is excellent for increasing mobility in the body, especially in the joints and hips as well as lubricating and protecting the joints in order to help prevent the body from getting injured due to repetitive motions found in your specific sport. I’ve put suggested time frames for how long you should stay in each pose, but ultimately you will need to listen to your body and only do what it allows you to. Take breaks when needed and be sure to relax and enjoy each pose.

Savasana– Lie on your back with the arms and legs extended. Take up space with your entire body. Turn your palms to face up and let the shoulders and hips melt into the floor. Close your eyes and start to draw your awareness to the breath. Focus on extending the inhales and exhales. Notice if there are any areas in your body that are tight or tense and concentrate on sending the breath into those parts of the body. Spend as much time as you would like here.

Bananasana– Reach the arms overhead and clasp the hands behind your head. Start to walk both feet over to the right edge of your mat (keeping your hips in place) and then follow by walking the shoulders to the right, creating this banana like shape with your entire body. To deepen the stretch, cross the left ankle over the right. Stay here for 2-3 breathing into the left side of the body. To release, come back to center and repeat on other side.

Supta Padangusthasana-Place a strap, belt or a towel around the ball of your right foot. Keep your left knee bent, sole of foot on the floor. Walk hands up strap and wrap it around the hands enough so you can relax with the shoulders and heavy on the floor. The weight of the arms will create enough tension to hold the foot up. If you would like to take this a step further, begin to walk the left forward, bringing the heel onto the mat. Spend 2-3 minutes here and then release and switch sides.

Butterfly– Come up to seated and place the soles of the feet together. Slide them away from you to create a diamond like shape with the legs. Allow your back to round as you fold forward and lightly rest your hands on your feet or on the ground. Let your head hang heavy toward the floor and if you have a block (and flexibility allows) you can place it on the feet and rest the forehead on the top of it. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and then press your hands into the floor and slowly roll up. Before moving, take a few deep breaths to allow the spine to neutralize.

Toe Squat- Begin by sitting back on your shins with the feet together. Tuck the toes under and spread them away from each other. Rest on the balls on the feet and let the hips sit back onto the heels. This is a very intense stretch as it gets into the fascia on the bottom of the foot. Breathe deeply into the stretch and relax as much as possible. Try to stay for 2-3 minutes. To release, come out slowly and lean forward placing the hands to the ground in front of the knees. Lift the hips and release the feet. You can even sway the feet from side to side for a few moments.

Ankle Stretch– Sit back onto the heels again but this time the tops of the feet will be on the floor. (If you have any knee or ankle pain, omit this pose). This might be enough of a stretch here or you can place your hands in front your knees and press into the hands to lift the knees a few inches of the mat. This pose is also fairly intense so only hold as long as you’re able and gently release by lowering the knees and stepping the feet back one at a time into plank pose.

Sphinx– Lower from plank onto your belly. Place the forearms onto the mat with the elbows just below the shoulders and lift the chest. If this doesn’t feel well in your lower back, walk the elbows a bit forward; which will lower the chest closer to the floor. If there are any sharp pains or aches then release the chest to the floor. Simply lying on your belly may be a good enough back bend for you. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes pressing down gently with the forearms, pelvis and toes. To release, lower the chest to the floor and rest your cheek to one side for a few moments then press up and come onto your back.

Reclining Pigeon-Once on your back, bend the knees and take the feet to the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh. Stay here if this stretch is enough or draw the left thigh closer to your belly and take the hands to the back of the left leg. Stay here for 3-4 minutes sending deep breaths into the stretch. Repeat on second side.

Viparita Karani– Keep the hips on the mat and begin to draw the knees toward the chest, taking the hands behind the thighs and gently start to extend the legs overhead. Keep a soft bend in the knees and if you feel supported enough here, you can lower your arms to the mat. Allow the head and shoulders to relax into the floor and breath into the backs of the legs as the hamstrings open up. This is a great pose to do at the wall where the weight of your legs can be completely supported. Stay here for 3-4 minutes and lower down by bending the knees and extending the legs long onto the mat.

Savasana-as long as you would like.

Enjoy!

Yoga for Runners Series

I am thrilled to combine my passion for yoga and running and to be able to share it with my community. I will be leading a Yoga for Runners Series at Red Coyote Running and Fitness in OKC starting Wednesday April 1. The classes will focus on stretching some of the overworked muscles including the hips and hamstrings as well as strengthening some of the under utilized muscles such as the core and upper body. For more information about why yoga is so important for athletes check out my article that was published in elephant journal. 

To sign up for any of the Yoga for Runners classes or to join the whole series click here.