Regular massage is an essential component of the recovery routines of all top level riders. It helps to prepare their bodies for the next training session or race and allows their therapist to identify and deal with any tightness or imbalances before they develop into injuries.
For many cyclists though cost can be prohibitive for more than a session every month or so but it’s possible, using a foam roller and a trigger point ball, to fill in the gaps between appointments.
This routine, prescribed by Phil Burt, lead physiotherapist at British Cycling, is used by many of the Great Britain Cycling Team to supplement their hands-on massage and is a highly effective way for you to help keep your body in optimal condition.
What do I need?
There are a multitude of foam rollers on the market ranging from simple expanded polystyrene to designs that supposedly mimic the action of a therapist’s fingers. The most important considerations are size and firmness. A roller needs to be large enough to be able to effectively perform the movements but not too big, especially if you intend to travel with it.
Some models are hollow, which makes them especially suited for traveling. Generally, the firmer the roller the better. You will be putting your entire bodyweight onto it and cheaper or softer rollers will just flex, degrade and won’t deliver an effective treatment. Along with the roller, you will also need a trigger point ball. This doesn’t need to be expensive. A hard rubber dog ball or cricket ball are ideal.
What does it do?
Using a foam roller and a trigger point ball mimics a therapy technique known as myofascial release. The myofascia is a spider’s web like network of white connective tissue that surrounds all of your muscles. All myofascia are connected and it can almost be thought of as a skin-suit surrounding our muscles.
In a healthy state it is soft, flexible and free moving but repetitive movement, load and trauma can cause it to become tight and unyielding. Traditional passive stretching doesn’t really stretch tissue but only desensitises it to lengthening whereas the compression and release of foam rolling and trigger point ball work is highly effective in maintaining flexible and healthy soft tissues.
How to do it?
- Work up and down the target area for 10 reps at a steady pace. For example, for the ITB (see below), a slow five count up and a slow five count down is about right. Perform two-to-four sets of each movement.
- The ideal time to roll is post-exercise with warm muscles.
- Never roll over bone.
- Initially perform the routine every day but, after approximately two weeks, you can move to maintenance of every other day.
- Expect it to hurt initially but, after two weeks of daily rolling, the pain will subside.
- Many people, especially women, experience bruising when first starting foam rolling, this is common but seek advice if worried by it.
- Once you are comfortable with rolling up and down the target area, focus and pause on especially tight or sore spots. Breath deeply and only move on when you feel the tissue relax and the pain subside.
- If you experience any unusual pain or sensations, consult with a qualified medical professional.
The illiotibial band (ITB) is a thick strap of soft tissue that extends down the outside of your leg. It’s notoriously hard to work on using traditional stretching movements but, if allowed to become overly tight, can be at the root of a number of common and painful knee problems.
The best method for keeping your ITB functioning optimally is to use a foam roller. If you are finding that your ITB gets tight constantly it may be due to a problem with your bike setup such as a too high seat or poor cleat alignment. With any recurring problem always try to seek professional advice and find the underlying cause.
- Lie on the foam roller in a side plank position with your full body weight on it, upper body supported on your elbow and feet stacked on top of each other.
- If you find the pressure too intense, you can reduce it by bringing your top leg in front and allowing it to take some of your weight.
- Roll up and down the full length of the outside of your thigh, taking care not to go onto the bones of your hip or knee.
- Don’t work around sore spots by rotating backwards or forwards.
This muscle group at the front of your thighs consists of four muscles, the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and sartorius. The rectus femoris especially is responsible for driving your pedals around but, if allowed to become too tight, can have an adverse effect on both posture and biomechanics, resulting in lower back pain and potentially hip and knee problems.
- Lie face down in a front plank position with one thigh on the roller.
- Bend the knee of the leg being rolled and hook it behind the ankle of the other leg to hold it in position.
- Roll up and down the full length of your thigh from the top of your hips to just above your knee.
In day to day life when sat at a desk, driving and on a bike, we’re locked in a flexed forwards position. This movement that focuses on the thoracic spine is a postural correction for this imbalance.
- Lie on the roller so that it goes across the top of your shoulders blades.
- Lightly support your head with your hands.
- Roll over the down to the bottom of your ribcage and, as you do so, extend over it.
When functioning properly, the muscles in your backside should play a significant role in a powerful and even pedal stroke. However, for many cyclists, poorly firing glutes due to tightness means less power and more load placed on your already overworked quads.
- Using either a roller or ideally a hard ball, cross one leg over the other and, adopting a side plank position, work the hip and buttock area of the bent leg.
- If using a roller, move up and down your buttock and rotate forwards and backwards to cover the whole area.
- If using a ball, move around all over the buttock, pausing and releasing as you come across tight or painful areas.