Treating your body right is a key part of getting, and staying, in top running shape. Running is not exactly gentle on the body, so a good recovery routine is important if you want to ward off aches, pains, and injuries. That means resting enough, fueling and refueling properly, and doing plenty of stretching, strength training, and foam rolling.
Rolling your muscles is great for a variety of things. But perhaps you’ve avoided buying a roller because it seems too chunky, cumbersome, difficult to use, or painful.
If that’s the case, you may be interested to find out some of the benefits of using a stick roller massager instead of a foam roller.
They’re generally a bit easier to use than a foam roller. If you’re contemplating whether or not a foam roller would be a good buy, it may be a smart idea to start with one of the better stick rollers and see if you find good use in it.
If you find the muscle massaging properties useful, you can decide whether you want to invest in a more upscale stick roller, or if a foam roller would be better for you.
Let’s leap right into the details of these useful tools!
What is a Stick Roller Massager?
A stick roller massager may look like nothing much. As its name suggests, it’s basically a stick of up to 20 inches long that has a handle on either end and a movable (rolling) middle section. The middle part is usually made of foam or plastic, and often has some kind of ridged pattern on it, just like a foam roller.
The way it works is quite straightforward. You hold it by the handles and place the rolling section on your sore muscles. Then, simply push down lightly and roll the midsection of the massager back and forth over the muscle.
While rubbing a stick over your muscles may sound very basic, you might be surprised at how many benefits you’ll gain from it! Here are a few.
Reduces Muscle Tension & Pain
A stick massager is an effective alternative to massaging sore muscles with your hands. In fact, it’s not just an alternative – it’s a clear upgrade. It’s helpful for larger muscles when a hand or a smaller massager doesn’t quite massage the whole muscle at once.
But because the thickness of a stick roller is usually just an inch or a few, they’re also great for really targeting knots to ease tension in smaller areas of muscles.
Speeds Up Recovery
Massaging tired and sore muscles can help them to relax faster, reducing the chances of cramps or tight muscles later on.
Rolling improves circulation, and gets more blood flowing to the muscles. This means that they heal faster from injuries and after-training aches and pains.
Just a few minutes of rolling after your daily exercise can make you feel more flexible and comfortable for the next day’s run!
Treating your muscles to regular massage therapy can help to stimulate muscle growth, thanks to better muscle recovery. The stronger your muscles, the better you’ll perform on the road, track, or trail.
This is also helpful if you do any form of cross-training. Your performance should improve there too, not just in your running. In turn, more effective cross-training boosts your running performance as well, so this is a benefit that keeps on giving.
Helps You Warm Up Properly
One of the best things about owning a muscle massager is that you don’t only have to use it after you exercise. Massaging your muscles before you start your workout can help get the blood flowing and warm your muscles up quite effectively.
Warming up is crucial to remaining injury-free, so this could be a great way to get your muscles ready for the exercise to come and work out any small knots that may cause tension during the workout.
Helps Release Lactic Acid
We’ve all felt that familiar soreness in our muscles after exercise. That’s caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, which causes inflammation and achiness.
Using the stick massager can help to break down that lactic acid build-up, reducing discomfort and shortening the amount of time you feel sore.
If you’ve tried to run with sore calf muscles or tried to lift weights when your muscles are aching, you’ll know that your range of motion is inhibited. That means your exercise is going to be less effective.
Easing that tension with a roller means you’ll go into your workout feeling less pain, and with a fuller, more flexible range of motion.
Runners who struggle with poor circulation will find great benefit in a roller. Not only does it increase blood flow to muscles post-run, improving recovery time, but it can improve circulation in general.
If the cold is the culprit, spending a few minutes rolling your cool, stiff muscles can warm them up and get the blood flowing, even if there’s no exercise involved.
Helps Prevent Injuries
All of the benefits we’ve already mentioned lead to a reduced chance of injury. Warming up properly is essential for a safe workout, and using a roller can take the place of an extra bit of physical activity to get your muscles warm.
Your flexibility and range of motion will be increased during your workout, not only boosting your performance but keeping overstretching injuries at bay.
After your exercise, using the roller to ease tension, reduce lactic acid build-up, and speed up recovery through increased circulation means you should be able to get back out there sooner, with fresh muscles.
A roller can be effective to speed up the recovery of injuries you suffer from currently. It’s helpful for things like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and muscle strains.
Breaks Down Scar Tissue
Scar tissue, or soft tissue adhesion, forms as a result of trauma. Sometimes, it’s visible on the surface of the skin. But other times, these adhesions form under the skin, causing lumps that can limit movement and cause pain.
Using a roller on these adhesions can help to break down the collagen fibers that create the scar tissue. It needs to be a targeted, deep tissue massage. But if done right (and over an extended period of time), adhesions can reduce in size and eventually go away altogether.
Improves Sleep Quality
All of these benefits cumulate in another important one: improved sleep. Muscle relaxation, increased circulation, and a reduction in pain from lactic acid makes sleep much more comfortable and easier to come by.
In turn, your mood is improved, productivity increases, and you’ll have more energy for your next run!
Tips to Use a Stick Roller
It may sound easy to use, but here are some tips to help you get the best out of your stick roller massager.
Choose the Right Density
Stick rollers come in varying densities. This refers to the middle section that you’ll be actively rolling over your muscles.
If you’re new to using a stick roller, it may be best to opt for a lower density stick, ie. a softer one. Higher-density foam can be surprisingly hard and maybe too painful on the muscles for those who aren’t used to it yet.
Once you’ve become used to using a softer stick, you can decide if it works well for you or if a firmer foam would be better.
Relax Your Muscles
Tensing the muscles is a common mistake when using a roller! Keeping your muscles tense clearly won’t help you relieve the tension. Relax your muscles so you can feel where the natural tension is – not the tension from you flexing.
When rolling, be mindful of keeping your muscles as relaxed as possible. You want to feel the massager moving over them, but putting pressure on flexed muscles may cause pain and injury.
Use Directly On Skin
Rollers are safe to be used directly on the skin. You can also use them over light, thin clothing. It’s best to remove thick, chunky clothing like sweaters or jeans.
Rolling over thick clothing isn’t going to allow you to apply the correct amount of pressure. The thick material acts as a buffer, and you won’t be getting any of the great benefits, as all the massage effects are absorbed by your clothing.
Don’t Use It For Too Long
It can be tempting to use the massager for hours on one sore area. But there’s really no need.
Research indicates that between 5 seconds and 2 minutes in various intervals on one muscle can help with warming and cooling down, as it increases flexibility.
The same research paper suggests that rolling for 30 seconds to 2 minutes can “change the perception of fatigue.” This can decrease pain and tiredness in that muscle.
Up to 5 minutes on one muscle should be all right. More than that isn’t likely to have any better effect. And massaging one muscle intensely for too long can cause bruising and inflammation.
For beginners, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to 15 minutes a day and spread those minutes across a variety of muscles.
Focus On Where It’s Tense
There’s no need to massage every muscle in your body after each workout! You’ll get the best effect out of your rolling if you focus on the areas that are tense. You’ll begin to get a better feeling for tense muscles and knots the more you roll.
You may find that a stick roller is easier to use on the lower extremities. But it can also be used on the shoulders, neck, glutes, back, and even arms.
Use Whenever Needed
You don’t need to reserve your stick roller for exercise-related use! It’s recommended to use before and after working out, but you can also use it at home or even in the office to relieve tight muscles when you’ve been sitting for too long.
What’s the Difference Between a Stick Roller and a Foam Roller?
Stick rollers and foam rollers are made to perform the same function. They work slightly differently due to different designs, and it’s up to you to decide which one would work best for your needs.
A stick roller is much smaller in diameter than a foam roller. At just an inch or two thick, it’s easier to focus more specifically on knots. Foam rollers are generally large in diameter, and used differently, as they don’t have handles.
It really depends on the size of the roller you buy. Stick rollers can be less bulky and therefore easier to carry around with you. But some foam rollers are small enough to fit into a gym bag quite easily. Some are even collapsible. The portability will vary by product.
Foam rollers and stick rollers are both quite effective when used the right way. That being said, the mechanism of use is slightly different.
A foam roller is very effective on larger muscle groups like the glutes, quads, or lats. Usually, more pressure is needed to release tension in these muscles. The foam roller is designed to be placed on the ground and laid/sat on, so your entire body weight provides pressure to relieve the muscles.
Stick rollers are much smaller and require less force on muscles, but that also means that they’re better for smaller muscle groups. You can get a certain degree of control using the handles that you can’t achieve with the foam roller. That makes a stick roller very effective for rolling out knots that are easy to reach.
Ease of Use
You can pull out a stick roller anywhere and use it fairly inconspicuously. In the office, in the car, in front of the TV, or even in bed. You may get some strange looks. But not as much as when you’re lying on the floor on your foam roller!
The foam roller is somewhat less easy to use in many settings than the stick roller. You may not be able to just lie down on the floor in the office. You won’t really be able to use a foam roller in a vehicle, or on public transport. And you may not be comfortable rolling around on the dirty, sweat-soaked gym floor.
For this reason, the stick roller comes out on top for ease of use.