Skip to content

Challenge your flexibility with bands, balls, rollers, dowels

In this second instalment of a four-part series on mobility, Newmarket athletic therapist Jen Mark shows you how to use simple tools — even a golf ball — to achieve better range of motion

This is the second instalment of a four-part series on mobility. Last week, I focused on stretching. Static stretching has its place in the mobility world, but next we are going to talk about different strategies to help you gain more flexibility (in muscles) and range of motion (around the joints). 

There are many tools that can help you take control of your ability to move your body. Most are fairly inexpensive, can be packed or tucked away at home, and are easy to use. The most important advice I can give you is to listen to your body and work within a comfortable range. The same advice as static stretching. 

We want to challenge the range a little, as long as it’s fairly comfortable and easy to attain. You may find that you get more and more each session or even near the end of one session. Just don’t force your body into positions that are painful. Remember, posture is always very important. 

Rollers are the most popular accessory for helping to gain flexibility. You can use long rollers or half rollers, it depends on your body and how you are using them. You want to get a roller that is fairly dense. The white foam rollers can collapse quickly and won’t last very long, although they are the cheapest. When it comes to foam rollers, look for blue or black colours. 

PVC rollers are the most durable, also more expensive. They only come in the half length, making them easy to travel with. They are used the same way as a foam roller. 

I demonstrate a few ways to use the foam and PVC rollers in the video. You can use the rollers at any time. Warm up, cool down, randomly throughout the day. You do not need to be warmed up first. 

The idea of these tools is to promote better movement of fluid within and around your muscles, move the muscles around, and release tension. Rolling can be painful, make sure you are monitoring that pain. The less tight you are, the less painful it will be, so you might have to start with a shorter amount of time and work your way up.

Chin up bands are great for working on range of motion. Hips and shoulders specifically. The idea here is to add a little traction to the joint. Simply tuck the band into the joint and pull away a little. You want to feel an easy stretch or pull.

You can have sustained traction, where you hold the stretch for as long as is comfortable, maybe 30 seconds to two minutes, or you can do a little give and take – gently pull, release about half way, and pull again. Try both to see what works best for you. These bands are also great for warming up or cooling down. 

Trigger point balls are great for that one spot that feels tight or mildly sore. I do not recommend using a trigger point ball on a really sore, angry muscle. However, you could use the ball around the area of the sore spot. 

The best trigger point balls are lacrosse balls. Baseballs work well, too. Golf balls can be a bit small but work well to roll out the bottom of your foot. 

You can also buy “trigger point balls”, “active release balls”, or “yoga balls”, but these are more mass marketed and usually cost more. I recommend using the balls as a cool down, as you are seeking relaxation and release.

You can roll around the outside of the joint, or just lie on the ball and hold the position for a few minutes. The idea here is to let the muscles relax around the ball in a non-threatening way.

Once the muscle releases, move the ball to a new spot. Sometimes this is painful, make sure you monitor the pain and keep it moderate.

Dowels are amazing for shoulder mobility. You can use a dowel, as shown in the video, or a broom handle. It can be surprising how little range of motion the shoulders have in some people. Gently work your way into a bigger range. The shoulder work with a dowel is great for warming up. 

Massage guns have jumped in popularity. I love them. They are a tool to help relax a muscle, release tension, and help with some flexibility. Be careful not to put the gun on a really sore or injured muscle. Keep the gun to the muscles of your body and not over joints or bony areas. 

The more expensive guns have vibration that helps with pain relief as well, but a smaller hand-held version can be a great tool to get tension out of muscles. 

Remember that these are all great tools to help you do more self-care. Find the tools that work well for your body, injuries, space, and time. 

Next week we will discuss dynamic movements to help increase the range of motion in your joints. The last instalment will be some fun yoga flows that will take all this into consideration.

Jen Mark is a Registered Kinesiologist, Certified Athletic Therapist, and Registered Yoga Teacher at Matrix of Motion Fitness Studios and Sports Medicine Centre of Excellence in Newmarket. Jen is currently the athletic therapist with the Markham Majors Bantams. Jen is also the head therapist and holistic director for the Junior Development Squad with the Men’s program under Field Hockey Canada. Jen uses her athletic therapy for exercise and manual treatments including soft tissue massage, joint mobilizations, and muscle energy.