If you’ve ever popped down the gym and seen a balding fortysomething straddling a massive marshmallow, you’ve probably seen foam rolling. This anonymous-looking piece of gym equipment is used by footballers to massage their lower body before and after training.
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Rolling sends a signal to the brain to loosen muscles and increase blood flow to flush out the toxins, produced during intense physical activity. This helps to improve flexibility and accelerate recovery. A study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise noted how a foam rolling routine reduced muscle soreness and increased range of motion in weightlifters following a squat workout. Think what it could do for your stiff limbs the day after a game.
“Our players really like them the day after a game because they ease that tightness in their legs,” says Southampton’s Head of Performance Mo Gimpel. "They come in different sizes but because they’re so light you can easily take them on away trips.Foam rollers are also easier to use than trigger point balls because they massage a greater surface area.”
Trigger-point massage ball
The only massages that most of us are familiar with involve health spas, but there is an alternative form of massage therapy available for nursing your body back to life. Trigger point balls perform the same purpose as foam rollers but, coming in various sizes, target more specific areas of the body.
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This attention to detail comes at a painful price as they apply greater pressure on muscle tissue – if you’ve ever had a deep sports massage you’ll know what we’re talking about. Like foam rollers, these balls have the backing of science: the University of Witwatersrand, in South Africa, tried them out on a group of golfers with poor hip flexibility and found they improved rotation of the joint during a golf swing. Want Mr Messi’s liquid hips? Think about giving massage balls a go.
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“Technically, it can be difficult to use balls because of their size, explains Gimpel. "Foam rolling offers you a simpler solution. However, because the ball is smaller you can apply more pressure to your aching muscles, so it provides you with a deeper massage. Time wise, a ball takes longer to use every session, though, so it’s only better if you have a very specific area you want to target.”
Winner: Foam roller