While you can’t beat a massage from someone who is trained to give proper sports massages, it is important to be able to work out niggles and tightness yourself. To do so, we find having a few ‘massage tools’ around the house is helpful.
Here are our top picks for at-home massage tools for runners to help you get those sore spots, knots and niggles out, together with how we use each of these massage tools to help with recovery and relieving tension in certain areas of our body before or after running, including our backs, glutes, hips, quads, calfs, hamstrings and feet.
Chirp Wheel for Back Pain/Tension
The Chirp Wheel is designed to fit perfectly between your shoulder blades, targeting the muscles that go up and down your spine. A Chirp Wheel is a much better tool for rolling your back than a standard foam roller because of its large diameter, and center ridge which your spine fits in between.
When your back is under tension from hours of running, or even sitting /standing at work all day, those muscles lock up, and cause even more pain. The Chirp Wheel rolls/massages those muscles, relaxing your back and relieving any pain you may have.
This is our favorite recovery tool right now, we both get a lot of relief and satisfaction out of rolling on our Chirp Wheel set to relieve clicks, knots and tension in our backs every night! [Chirp’s latest deal includes A Chirp Wheel 3 Pack, carry case, posture corrector, and tutorial videos—for only $99! Now with FREE shipping!]
A Foam Roller
A simple foam roller is a classic at-home massage tool for runners, and something everyone should probably have lying around their home for spontaneous rolling sessions.
My favorite uses for a plain old foam roller are for releasing tightness in the glutes and piriformis. I also used to use it up and down my back to relieve tensions gained from too much time at a desk – but the Chirp Wheel has replaced it for this purpose.
You can also buy foam rollers which have bumpy / nobbly exteriors, and tend to be a more aggressive massage tool than the simple foam roller. These textured foam rollers are good for rolling tougher parts of your body, or those needing a deeper massage. My favorite uses for the nobbly foam roller are rolling the calves and hamstrings.
You can also get fancy foam rollers like the Trigger Point GRID Vibe (pictured), which is battery powered and vibrates! The idea of the vibration is that the foam roller provides more of a massage and helps improve circulation as you roll.
A Massage Ball
A small foam massage ball is best for rolling smaller areas such as the bottom of your feet (plantar fascia) as well as for deeper glute and back massages to work out sore spots.
Small foam massage balls (such as the Trigger Point Massage Ball) are specifically designed to provide the right amount of pressure/resistance and are designed with a non-slip surface so they don’t slip out from under you if you’re lying on them and trying to get the right amount of pressure to release muscular and soft tissue tension in hard-to-get-to parts of your body.
Massage balls come in different sizes and it seems most people prefer a smaller one (around 2.5 inches in diameter) as this is easier to massage areas like your Plantar Fascia on the bottom of your feet, Piriformis, and parts of the neck and shoulders.
You can also use a tennis or lacross ball, or the spiky tumble dryer balls if you don’t want to get a ball specifically designed for massage, although I like that the Trigger Point ball has just the right amount of pressure without being too hard or painful (or too soft, which can be the case with using tennis balls for trying to put pressure on tight spots).
Compex Mini TENS Muscle Stimulator
For years I have been using a Compex muscle stimulator to help build leg muscle. It is such a great additional method of gaining strength while giving your legs a break from the impact of actually running. On a day when I’m not running, I can still build muscle in my quads and calves all while watching my favorite tv show! It’s a huge time saver and also a practical way to supercharge and fast-track your training. I first used this technique when training for my first Matterhorn Ultraks race, which incidentally went really well.
Using a Compex in this way was a highly effective way for me to build strength into my muscles (I wasn’t living near any big hills at that time) that I knew would be needed for climbing nearly 4000m of elevation gain in Switzerland for Matterhorn Ultraks.
I also use the TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) function of my Compex on my Achilles heel when I feel like it may be flaring up, usually after a high-intensity road run. TENS calms it down, reduces the pain and helps it heal faster.
The Compex Mini Wireless Muscle Stimulator with TENS is their latest device, it’s so small that it can very easily be taken with you on the go. Very handy if you want to give yourself a recovery massage straight after a race (more on that in the Recovery section below). The Compex Mini has 6 programs to help athletes become stronger trail runners. The programs are ‘Prewarm Up’, ‘Endurance’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Training Recovery/Active Recovery’, ‘Muscle Relaxation’, and ‘Pain Management’.
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The first Compex unit I owned was big enough for me to entertain the thought of not taking it with me on my runcations but the Mini Wireless Muscle Stimulator has changed the game, with its extra convenient portability.
A Portable Massage Gun
You know your massage game is getting serious when you invest in a massage gun!
The benefits of a percussion massage gun is that it will provide more of a deep tissue massage on your sore and overworked muscles, and the tool does all the work, you just hold it in the right place and move it around as needed.
A reputable brand of massage gun we have used is the Compex Fixx 1.0, which is easy to use and features adjustable speed settings. If you’d like to learn more about this tool, then you can read more about in our full review, which features videos and more details of how and when you’d use a portable massage gun.
While you can’t beat getting a professional sports massage, doing so is not feasible for many of us to have too frequently, so it’s great to have a selection of quality at-home massage tools that you can use on a regular basis.
RELATED READING: If you’re looking for other ways to improve your running, from everything from recovery to nutrition, then you may be interested in reading my top tips and advice for becoming a stronger runner.