When your tissues aren’t hydrated properly, the muscle fibers get stuck together and they can’t fire as powerfully during your workouts, says Alison McGinnis, physical therapist and clinical director at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City.
Soft tissue work solves this problem by improving blood flow and moving stagnant fluid so your tissues glide more easily. In turn, you'll be able to lift more and run faster.
For the technique to be effective, you need to compress the muscles adequately, McGinnis explains. When you use a foam roller, your body weight does the work. When using a handheld massage stick, however, you can't apply the necessary pressure to get the benefits.
The bottom line:
Before training, use a foam roller or trigger point ball on the muscles you plan to work, McGinnis says. Aim to move from the top of one muscle to the bottom as slowly as possible, going down one inch, up one-half inch, and so on. Once you reach the bottom, reverse and repeat.