There are many different tools on the market for self-massage (also referred to as self-myofascial release, or “SMR” for short.) A common tool for SMR is the foam roller, which is a great way to target and massage the large muscle groups of the body by simply lying on the roll and moving your body back forth in a slow and controlled manner.
However, if you find yourself having tight muscles in the upper back, shoulders, forearms, chest, feet, or hip flexors, a Fascia ball should be your go-to piece of equipment.
The Fascia ball is a small, affordable, and more effective alternative to target the hard to reach areas mentioned above. A Fascia ball is also great for targeting knots or trigger points that are deeper in the larger muscle groups, such as calves, hamstrings, lats, quads, etc.
Before we look at how to do SMR correctly, here’s a short overview of what fascia is and why self-massage or self-myofascial release is helpful for your muscles.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a soft, flexible mesh-like tissue that surrounds the muscles of our bodies and keeps them in place. When this fascia becomes damaged or tight it is known as a trigger point or knot. These knots compromise the fascia’s elasticity and can cause pain, discomfort, or even limit the functionality of that particular muscle.
How does self-myofascial release help?
When we use a tool such as a Fascia ball or foam roller, we are using it to put pressure directly on the knot to produce friction and stimulate blood flow which is very similar to getting a massage.
Putting pressure on the knot or trigger point lets the body know that it should release built-up tension, helping the fascia and muscle to relax and realign, which ultimately contributes to the maintenance and recovery of your muscles.
The results are typically immediate and often people will report that the tension and discomfort “melts away.”
NOTE: If you feel severe pain when performing SMR, you should stop immediately and consult with a medical professional.
Foam roller vs. Fascia ball, what’s the difference?
One is not better than the other; both the foam roller and Fascia ball are great tools for self-myofascial release. However, their uses do vary.
Foam rollers are fantastic for massaging large muscles in the lower body and back, however, it is sometimes difficult to target other parts of the body or to apply the appropriate amount of pressure to a very sensitive trigger point or knot.
This is where the Fascia ball comes in handy, as you will be able to get to and relieve knots in deep muscle tissue of the major muscle groups like the legs and mid- or upper back.
And when used in combination with a foam rolling routine, using the fascia ball for massage will help to relieve built-up tension in areas the foam roller can’t reach.
How to use the Fascia ball
The Fascia ball has a very small surface area which enables you to target any knots or trigger points you have with great accuracy.
You will find that this can sometimes be painful or uncomfortable, but the good news is that there are multiple techniques you can employ when using the Fascia ball depending on your tolerance of discomfort when performing self-massage.
Using the ground
Simply set the ball on the ground and position yourself on top of the ball so that it is in contact with the targeted muscle group. In the case pictured above, it’s the calf muscle.
Move your body around until you find the trigger point or knot and then slowly shift your weight forward and backward, as well as side to side.
You can adjust how much pressure is applied to the muscle by changing how much weight is being put on the Fascia ball.
Using slow and controlled movements for 30-90 seconds will normally do the trick.
Using a wall
While standing next to a flat wall, hold the ball on the wall and press up against it with your targeted muscle group. In this example, we are targeting the chest muscles and the front of the shoulder.
We suggest bending your knees slightly when getting into position so that it is easier to move your body around to find and relieve the knot or trigger point.
This technique takes a bit of practice, but the same concept applies as when using the ground.
The main difference is that you do not have gravity to help pull you towards the ball. You will need to press yourself closer to the wall to apply the correct pressure to the ball and in turn, massage the target muscle. Slow and controlled movements for 30-90 seconds are recommended.
Applying pressure with your hand
The final Fascia ball SMR technique is to simply place the ball on your targeted muscle and use your hand to apply pressure.
This is an effective way to massage the lower arms. Alternatively, you can use this technique if you have an extremely sensitive trigger point, which is common in high contact sports.
Massage around the trigger point using this technique for 30-90 seconds before using the wall or ground technique, or before switching to a foam roller.
Fascia ball + foam roller = your essential self-massage kit
The Fascia ball is an affordable, compact tool for self-myofascial release that can easily be kept in your gym bag or desk drawer at work to help relieve built-up tension whenever you have it. By using a foam roller and Fascia ball consistently, you will be on your way to doing all you can to help your body recover from training and become your greatest version.