Sometimes, you need to treat yourself, and in doing so, normally a soft object will do the trick, but in certain situations, you may need to use a hard one.
Maybe a hard tool is all that is available (it can be better than nothing if you can use it without causing harm), or maybe you’ve tried soft tools and you’re left with the feeling that you should try something more firm, yet you
can’t afford a professional’s help, or you’re geographically isolated from any trustworthy manual therapists (like living in a remote part of Vietnam, as I am right now).
Treatment for the Muscular
I’m an athlete and a somewhat muscular dude, and as such, have some issues that can be combatted more effectively by harder objects, and in safe way. In certain cases, I would recommend these techniques to others as well.
Take Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD videos for instance. His instruction is targeting serious CrossFit athletes who tend to be much more muscular than the average person, so his use cases are different than my recommendations, which are for more average people. More muscle equals more padding of sorts (less risk from hard object), plus they are more prone to having such “jacked up mobility” from their movement patterns, that they warrant the need for the hard stuff.
My message to these people is that although they can safely use harder tools, and receive benefit from the harder tools, they shouldn’t rule out the unique advantages of softer tools. A combination of the two is probably best for this demographic. For example, there is just no safe way to massage the abdomen with only hard tools. This is why Kelly has hosted Yoga Tune Up® creator Jill Miller on his MobilityWOD videos several times, especially to demonstrate the Courageous ball for abdominal massage. The “pink princess ball” can do wonders for pretty much everyone, including athletes reminiscent of The Hulk.
Something’s Gotta Give
My recommendation to default to soft objects assumes that the self-massager is using their body weight, as most self-massage and YTU massage exercises are taught, to wedge the object between a surface and a body part, and that the surface is rather hard, like the wooden floor of a yoga studio or the concrete wall of a gym.
However, if the surface were really soft or squishy, like a car seat, or a rather plush carpet, then a hard object will function more similarly to a soft one.
Say you wanted to massage your hamstrings while sitting in the seat of an airplane, for example. Using a hard ball under your hamstring on a squishy seat can feel a lot like using a squishy ball on a hard seat.
In this case, the ball still won’t have the pliability of a squishy ball, and thus loses those benefits, but the amount of force per unit of body weight will be less. The idea is that either the object or the surface should have some give to it, in order to prevent excessive force – but a hard object against a soft surface does not offer all the advantages that a soft object on a hard surface does.
Easy Does It
If, for some reason, you do need to use a hard ball on a hard surface, and you’re not the uber-muscular type, but this is the only massage option you have, then it’s important to remember the formula from part one of this series:
- How hard an object is + how hard it is pressed = force of that object against the thing its being pressed against
- Control your body weight, press gently, and remember… easy does it.