How The NBA Avoids Injuries: The Foam Roller

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Basketball is a sport of blood, sweat and tears, there’s no arguing that. There’s also a little bit of self-inflicted pain, if you count the regular use of a foam roller. Ballers use foam rollers to perform active release on their muscles, which prepares tissue for a hard game ahead, eases knots after the final buzzer and reduces recovery time. The tool’s widespread use is why the humble self-massage device is both the best friend and worst enemy of nearly every player in the NBA—for something that helps keep you healthy, it sure hurts like hell. From the top down, here are five foam rolling exercises you can’t afford to miss out on.

 

Photo: David J. Phillip/AP Photo


Lats
In broad terms, you can roll out just about any muscle that needs warming up or relief from soreness. Players build up a lot of tension in their lats when shooting and pivoting, so all it takes to target the affected muscle group is lying down on your side and gently rolling your body over the tool, stabilizing yourself using your top leg. Keeping the arm on your affected side extended past your head, roll from your armpit all the way to your hipbone, which can be a hot spot for tightness. As with every one of these exercises, you’ll want to concentrate on each muscle for about 30-60 seconds.

Glutes
Jumping and running can create gluteal tightness, which can interfere with the function of other muscle groups in your legs. To roll out your glutes, seat yourself over the roller using your arms and legs for support. Cross one leg over the other knee to put your weight on just one half, and roll it out from just below the glutes all the way up to the lower back. If you hit a knot (and you’ll get a lot of these in your rear end), you should gently push into it for around 10 seconds to actively release the tension, then resume. This goes for any muscle you roll out.

IT band
If you’ve survived the previous two exercises without too much pain, you’re in for a real treat rolling out your iliotibial band. This strip of often-tender connective tissue runs along the side of your leg from the hip bone to below your knee. The pain now will be worth it: tightness here manifests itself in dreaded knee injuries, and you’ll want to avoid those. While on your side, place the roll in the nook between your hip and the outside of your thigh. Cross the opposite leg over the top and place your foot flat on the ground for support. Roll along the outside of your thigh all the way down to your knee—trust us, you’ll feel it. With consistency, the pain will disappear.

Quadriceps and hips
Another key running muscle, target your quadriceps by starting off on your hands and knees. Lower the front of one leg to the roll and put your weight on it. Roll from the bottom of your hipbone down to your knee along the quad. Once completed, target the tiny hip flexor area by moving to the edge of the roll and pushing the corner into the nook just between your leg and the hipbone. These two muscle groups contribute to tightness in the previous two areas, so keep things limber.

Hamstrings and calves
The hamstrings and calves can be done from the same position, but should be done separately. Sit over the foam roller, and roll out the section between your glutes and the back of your knees to target the hamstrings. When ready to move onto the calves, cross your ankles to throw some weight onto the calf you’re working out. For this and all other rolling exercises, after nursing the tender spots, consider performing static stretches to create extra flexibility gains. If a knot is particularly evasive, you can try a studded roller (or a simple tennis ball) to really get in there.

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