Instead of stretching before you work out, you should take a foam roller for a spin. Rolling is the single best way to simultaneously increase mobility, boost recovery, and prevent injury without weakening muscles pre-workout (as stretching has been shown to do). "The best time to roll is before activity," says Dean Somerset, a University of Alberta–trained physiologist and exercise expert, "as this helps to unlock stuck tissues that aren't gliding properly."
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Foam rolling works through the myofascia, a tough web around muscles. As you exercise, this supportive web gets inflamed, tightening up, compromising muscle function, and increasing injury risk. The best way to get rid of this tightness is with a massage – in this case, using a $40 piece of hard foam. While you will benefit from a general, full-body foam-roller program once a day (before and/or after workouts), it is best to target trouble spots, rolling the offending area for about 20 seconds at a time, and repeating until you lose the tightness. "Your body's going to tell you where you need it," says Karl Knopf, author of the Foam Roller Workbook. Meaning, when you find a knot, you want to pause, relax the muscle, roll through it, and apply pressure.
Why: Increases ankle mobility by loosening the connecting muscles.
Who: Anyone who plays tennis, soccer, or other sports with common ankle-roll injuries.
How: Lie on your side with your forearm braced on the floor and the foam roller positioned underneath the outside of your shin. Roll your lower leg back and forth over the foam roller.
Credit: Photograph by Justin Steele