Some people come home to significant others who love and cherish them—and, like, that’s cool. Personally, I’m at the stage of my life where I’m most excited to walk through my front door and find my three sweethearts: my foam roller, lacrosse ball, and Theragun. We gather together on my yoga mat and work through my ultra-sore muscles until right before bed. They give me free massages without asking for anything in return.
I’m smitten for each and every one of them, and once you know how to transform your own recovery tools into at-home masseuses, you’ll feel the same way.
At the Wanderlust 108 festival in Brooklyn, Julie Wu—an instructor with RAD roller—taught me how to transform any recovery tool into a bodywork specialist equipped to give both a Swedish massage (which is usually lighter) or a deep-tissue massage (which is way more intense). According to Wu, the fastest way to switch up the pressure a tool applies to your muscles is to change the surface upon which you are rolling. If you sprawl out on hard wood, for instance, a lacrosse ball won’t have nearly as much of as a buffer as it would on say, turf or carpet. And thus, if you desire a massage that goes deep, deep, deep into your muscle tissues, you need only locate harder patch of ground.
“When you use [a ball] on a hard surface, you get a little less compression out of the ball itself, so it will feel harder,” says Mike Mallory, founder of RAD roller. “If your body weight feels like too much, you can use it on a wall, or you can use more support with your hands.” While it’s okay to lean into the discomfort of the massage just a teeny-bit, Mallory isn’t a big proponent of pressure that’s so severe that your eyes water and you feel your jaw lock up. “You’re always look for a five out of 10—10 being actual pain and zero being somebody just lightly rubbing their finger against your skin,” he explains. “It’s almost like a ‘productive pain,’ not just like an ‘ow, that hurts’.”
When Mallory told me this, I was shocked. (“You mean my pain shouldn’t be at a 99?”) The answer is a hard no, says Mallory. That perfect level five works in tandem with both your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you down, and your lymphatic system, which rids your body of waste and helps nutrition circulate properly.
“Muscle’s primary function is to move limbs around, but the secondary function is that they’re pumps. So every time you flex a muscle, you’re essentially pumping that lymph through the system. Muscles that are too tight are ineffective pumps. But if you go too hard on the tissue [with a lacrosse ball or foam roller], your nervous system responds in a negative way and it makes your muscle tense up because they sense danger.” Whatever your preferred type of self-massage, you definitely want to make sure your treating your muscles with loving care.