Deep Tissue Massage Ball for Myofacial Release || What, Why, and How + Top Exercises

That’s it. I’m officially old. It’s not my recent birthday or my growing kids that have me convinced I’m aging. It’s that I’m writing yet another post aimed at flexibility and mobility. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I am determined to keep my body active and injury-free as long as humanly possible.

So how do I do that?! Last month I shared my love of all things foam rolling, including why I foam roll, how to choose the right roller, + some amazing foam rolling exercises and stretches. (If you missed these posts, check them out here and here.) And today I’m sharing another tool straight out of my Transformation toolbox—deep tissue myofacial massage balls! 

Outfit Details: Reebok Leggings – on SALE (similar here for under $20),  Sports bra (similar here), Massage Roller Ball

Some of my favorite massage roller balls:

Admittedly, massage ball rolling and foam rolling are seemingly similar to the untrained eye, so much so that I debated whether or not I should do an entire post on massage balling alone. While I know the importance of and differences between the two, there can be a little confusion on how they are both beneficial and needed to those that have done neither, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to explain it well enough to make this worthwhile.

But after posting several times about my love for massage balls (and even Ruby and my mom rolling with their homey—ME!) on Instagram and social media, I received quite a few messages from readers wondering if I would be willing to teach them the difference. The answer? Of course! I might not be a massage balling PRO—in fact, I am only about one year into using these—but so far, it’s been body-changing.

Just like foam rolling, using a massage ball can help reduce inflammation in muscles, improve recovery and performance, increase range of motion/flexibility, and help with muscle soreness. 

The biggest difference between foam rollers and massage balls is the ability to focus on smaller, more specific areas, digging much deeper into the muscles you are trying to pinpoint. And by deeper, I mean…DEEP…and by DEEP I mean…(sometimes) painful. But you know what they say—no pain no gain. 😉 

By using massage balls, we are able to get the benefit of an actual massage therapist (think elbows—ouch!) without having to pay the big dollars or set up an appointment. You can work those muscles daily.

While foam rollers help focus on smoothing the myofacial covering of our muscles (a somewhat superficial form of massage therapy), massage balls allow us to actually dig INTO the muscles, helping us break up knots and kinks, and releasing bound up muscles that might be creating imbalances in our bodies. As I have mentioned before, these imbalances and tight muscles can (and usually do) ultimately lead to injury. 

For physique, figure, bikini competitors: I do use this religiously leading up to my shows. I am a couple of weeks out from a show now, and if I skip a day of rolling, it’s incredibly noticeable in my posing when I don’t roll with a massage ball. As competitors, we need our muscles to be mobile and move freely, allowing them to expand, open up, and show definition (hello, glute tie ins!) on command. Massage ball rolling WILL help….a MUST TRY.

Massage balls come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to dig deeper or stay more shallow as needed. I tend to lean toward the 5” and 7” versions for MOST things. You can use the 7” ball for moderate, deep tissue massage, whereas the  5” ball is great for more aggressive, deeper tissue massage. The pics in this article are all done with a 5″ ball, which is the ball I keep on hand and travel with.

Smaller massage ball tools are also available and wonderful for going EVEN DEEPER. Chris and I both keep a handful of lacrosse balls on hand to work those hard to reach, smaller muscle groups, like the rhomboids and traps (upper back and shoulders).

Lately, the lacrosse ball has been my go-to ball for glutes when sitting in the car, airplane chair, or anywhere I am forced to be sedentary and KNOW my glutes are locking up.

Alright…ready to get rolling? Read my top tips first.

  • Gently emphasize areas of tightness during each exercise. If you have an injury, DO NOT roll directly on the injury. Instead, roll away from it. And most importantly, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before rolling around an injury. 
  • For upper body exercises, always avoid contact with your spine.
  • Pay attention to your form throughout each exercise. This is a slow and methodical process, not a quick-and-done one. 😉
  • EITHER: Roll for 1 minute—aiming to cover the muscle 3-4 times, then rest for 30 seconds in between rolls, OR place the ball in your troubled areas (for me, my glutes…specifically my right side due to my hip structural issues), find the place of pain and discomfort (this will notify you there is a bound up, gunked up muscle), hold the ball there, do some deep breathing, and try your hardest to relax INTO the ball. This sucks…but is so worth it in the end.
  • While foam rolling should only be done 2-3 days a week, using a massage ball CAN and SHOULD be a daily tool for most people. Again, focusing on overall wellness of the muscles or digging a little deeper to relieve the troubled and tight muscles. 
  • If rolling causes too much pain during any exercise, simply omit the rolling part of the exercise and apply as much pressure as you can stand while keeping the massage ball in that area.

Calf Rolls:

1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended, place the massage ball under one of your calves, and place your hands on the floor behind you to support your body weight.
2. Engage your core, gently lift your glute off of the floor, and slowly roll your calf from your knee to your ankle.
3. Repeat on the other side, and feel free to hold your calves over/on the ball in troubled areas.

Hamstring Rolls:

1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended, place your hands on the floor behind you to support your body weight.
2. Place the massage ball under your one of your hamstrings, engage your core, and gently lift your glutes off of the floor.
3. Option #1: Slowly roll your hamstring from your knee to just below your glute.
4. Option #2: Slowly roll your hamstring in a circular motion from your knee to just below your glute, emphasizing those tight areas.
5. Repeat on the other side.

Quad Rolls:

1. Lie face down on the floor and place the massage ball under one of your quads.
2. Place your hands in front of you to support your body weight and engage your core.
3. Option #1: Slowly roll your quad from your knee to just below your glute.
4. Option #2: Slowly roll your quad in a circular motion from your knee to just below your glute, emphasizing those tight areas.
5. Repeat on the other side.

IT Band Rolls:

1. Lie on your side with the massage ball underneath your IT band.
2. Support your upper body with your hands and engage your core
3. To alleviate too much pressure on your femur, bring your top leg to the floor for added support, then gently roll from your hip to your knee.
4. Repeat on the other side.

Glute Rolls: The best EVER!!

1. Sit on the floor and place your hands behind you to support your body weight.
2. Place the massage ball underneath one of your glutes.
3. Option #1: Engage your core and slowly roll your glute from top to bottom.
4. Option #2: Slowly roll your hamstring in a circular motion from your knee to just below your glute, emphasizing those tight areas.
5. Option #3: Find trouble spots and hold. For extra deep massage, slowly move your leg around to allow the ball to sink deeper into the glute. 
6. Repeat on the other side.

Lower Back Rolls:

1. Place the massage ball on the ground and lie on it on one side of your lower back with your forearm supporting your body weight.
2. Engage your core, and using your legs, slowly roll from above your glutes to just below your shoulder blades.
3. Repeat on the other side.

Upper Back Rolls:

1. Lie on your back, placing the massage ball between your spine and shoulder blade.
2. Engage your core, and gently roll from your upper to mid back, stopping to allow the ball to sink into those trouble areas.
3. Repeat on the other side.

Phew…my fingers and eyes are tired…and my body is def in need of a roll or 10. NOT to be confused with a cinnamon roll.

Time to get rolling for ALL of us. Try these out and let me know what you think about these exercises—Yes? No? Ouch? No matter if you foam roll, massage ball roll, or a combo of the two, this simple, frequent habit can make a world of difference in your activities of daily living AND in your progress towards your transformation goals!

xo,

Heidi

Related reading:

Foam Rolling 101: The Basics + How to Choose a Foam Roller
Fitness is Fun: Pilates
10 Foam Rolling Exercises, Stretches, and Mobility Movements
At-Home Body Sculpting || Sexy Back + Shoulder Shaper
Relieve Achy Knees with These 3 Simple Moves


5 Comments

  1. Sara - August 15, 2018

    Great article. Something I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my daily routine. Thank you!

  2. Savannah - April 19, 2018

    I read this post last night and my glutes were SO SORE from my workout Tuesday morning. I ordered my massage ball on Amazon, and it was already delivered today! Thanks for a great post, and I can’t wait to put these into my regular routine.

  3. Jaime - April 19, 2018

    What is the difference in rolling with a ball and fasciablasting? Are they the same or can they both be done on the same day or would i do alternated days?!? Thank you for this post! I learned a lot! 🙂

    • Team Powell - April 19, 2018

      Hi Jaime: Since both techniques are similar, I don’t think you’d want to do them both the same day. If you’re treating an injury, I’d ask your healthcare team what they would recommend. 🙂

  4. Dee C Lillywhite - April 18, 2018

    Seriously crying right now. Thank you for this post. It was a gift from God. I have had 2 shoulder surgery’s. The last one last May. I am a flight attendant and the doctors say I cannot return to work. To add insult my shoulder hurts more than ever. See why this post is for me? I have been using a foam roller with no relief. I pray this works.

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