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.
Liked this article? Read The Aches and Pains of Travel
This is an excellent reminder that we can ALL benefit from YTU, whether we are professional athletes, trying to run our first 5k or trying to get back into shape after an injury. YTU is for everyone!
Good note on how the surface also affects the sensation. I’ve used YTU balls on a soft surface, and it just sinks and I miss out on the force. Also, showing my friends some RMM techniques on a thick carpet floor – super difficult.
Thanks for sharing your findings. This fast-tracks folks so that they don’t have to learn through trial-and-error.
My kids are still in a lego stage so I felt like I am always stepping on things that are sharp and oddly shaped. And while I’m still trying to avoid getting impaled now I actually welcome those moments instead of recoil from them. Stepping on something that isn’t uniform with the give of the YTU balls is a great opportunity for practice with harder and unusual surfaces. And yes – way better to step on a lego on carpet instead of the wood floor!
Good info. Thanks for bringing up some good points. I always bring my tune up balls with for long drives in the car.
Thank you so much, it’s incredible to see Jill miller how she can move with the ball like a second nature. I’m putting this exercice to my daily routine.
It is a good reminder that no pain no gain doesn’t apply to the roll model’s techniques. We want to relax the nervous system, better be gentle on how we roll. Thanks for the share.
Thank you for the guidance on when and how to use harder tools for more muscular bodies or parts. I also love the bit on when and why softer tools are more relevant and most effective even for the athletes who are “reminiscent of the Hulk.”
Rolling is always a treat
I had never thought of the relationship between the hardness of the object and the hardness of the surface but now the I see it writes down I realize that you are right. When I’m sitting on something soft I tend to gravitate towards the harder object and when the surface is hard I want something a little softer.
Thank you very much Max! Really good to consider which ball is for what and where to use !
This makes a ton of sense: “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.” I was using the alpha ball on my oblique and QL area the other day which I found a bit much, but when I place it on an exercise mat it seemed to be the perfect middle ground.
This is a great reminder of all the places and ways we can adapt to give ourselves some TLC whenever we need to! I have been known to shove a small apple in between my upper back and the car seat while on long drives. (Hard tool/squishy seat).
Changing the surface of what the ball is rolling is an great reminder for those really muscular athletes. Also an good reminder for those traveling that they can use an alternate rolling method in a car seat or airplane. Im curious to see more on different body types and rolling.
I have been looking for a better way to form roll my hamstrings. The form roller does not seem to give me the results i needed, seeing the ball on a seat or airplane gave me a better understanding, sometimes smaller is better. Thank you for that amazing tip.
Definately will be trying the plane seat example soon. It could also translate to long driving trips. Wonderful to seek hard to soft proportion alternatives when you cant find the perfect environment to use the TuneUp balls (which is the ultimate solution). There are many situations where I’m waiting or have a stationary task, like writing a report, that I can utilize the time for self care. I am makinit a habit of addressing the strain or pain in the moment.
Does anyone know if this would do anything for sciatic pain during long boughts of sitting?
Great tips! I am new to rolling, so the idea of considering the surface when deciding which ball to use is one that I will keep in mind.
Great article. I especially like the 2 photos side by side. It made the information about the similarity of a soft ball on a hard surface and a hard ball on a soft surface really clear. I do have some students that are muscular dudes and this info is will be helpful for them.
Good article and good advice to be discerning when self-treating. Know what your intention is – sometimes less is way more than you might expect! Always good to start softer and work your way up if need be.
sometimes you just have to get creative when working on DIY massage and this is a great reminder that less is more for both tool and surface in creating tension or sensation that is “just right” to do the job.
I don’t think that I have been really thinking of others in this sense when I instruct them which type of tool to grab. This makes so much sense and I can definitely think of participant in my classes that hav3 different bodies and could really benefit from a softer/ harder tool.
Makes sense. I never thought of it that way to use a hard object on a soft surface.
Thanks for talking about the differences in the surfaces we are rolling our balls on; this will certainly change my approach in certain settings.
Agreed that the dichotomy between the hard and soft balls need to be taken in consideration, particularly for those:
1.) who have a history of taking pain medication and thus thinner blood and skin;
2.) prone to bruise easily
3.) with less body awareness ( due to excessive lack of mobility and/or elderly.
The point made “the idea is that either the object or the surface has some give to it” because it creates a balance. It does an effective job of allowing athletes to understand that with more “padding” they can use a harder object. However there are benefits of both a soft object and a hard object, a soft surface and a hard surface. Understanding moderation in this may be key?
Hi Max, I have just started using the pink princess ball and really enjoy the less is more concept for relief of tension – I was always if the mind set of hard ball hard surface – treating myself to the softer side of things has definitely been a benefit for my muscles