Better Ways to Release Tight Muscles

New Ways to Release Tight Muscles
Replace your foam roller with a kettlebell for recovery moves. Getty Images

When I talk to people about their workouts, I’ve found that most people have a set gym ritual. They do the same old exercises with the same equipment day after day. I get it. Routines are comforting. But eventually doing the same thing not only becomes boring, your body adapts, and those exercises stop producing results. Neither is good news for your fitness goals, so let’s switch things. Here are five ways you can use traditional gym equipment in untraditional ways to get the most out of your workouts.

1. Kettlebells

Just picturing a kettlebell may make your glutes sore from the last time you did a slew of swings. But swings aren’t the only way to use this piece of equipment. For those of you who have graduated from the lacrosse ball for muscle release, the kettlebell can be a great tool. Next time you’re looking for a hip flexor release, try using the handle of the kettle bell. The sturdy metal and the shape of the handle will allow you to get deeper into the hip muscles to release them, and in turn, that will help turn on your abs and glutes during your workout.

Hip Flexor Release With Kettlebell

  • Lie on your stomach and place a kettlebell handle just inside your hip bone. Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto it. 
  • Bend the knee on the side of the release back to a 90-degree angle. Rotate your leg from the hip, swinging your foot side-to-side in a tolerable range of motion.
  • Repeat for 30-second to two-minute intervals.

2. Foam Rollers

Despite their name, foam rollers can (and in my opinion, should) be used for more than just rolling — in this case, muscle release. Actively releasing muscles rather than just rolling over them resets the way the fibers function and gets the muscle working for the rest of your daily activities. Your vastus lateralis (outer quad) is typically very tight, and as a result, pulls your pelvis into a position where your major stabilizers can’t work (glutes and lower abs). Releasing this muscle will allow the pelvis to fall back into position to get those muscles working again.

Vastus Lateralis Release

  • Lay on the side you wish to release. Place the foam roller under your bottom leg halfway between your hip and knee.
  • Slide your leg up and down along the foam roller, moving it from the top of the knee to the base of the hip, and focusing on more tender areas.
  • Repeat in 30-second intervals for two minutes.
  • To focus on a specific area of the IT band, locate the most tender area with the foam roller and stop. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle, and then straighten. Repeat motion of bending and straightening knee for 10 to 15 seconds.

3. Barbell

Barbells are often used for upper-body strength exercises, but they can also be an upper-body mobility tool. If you have a desk job, you probably have tight upper traps, which if left untreated can lead to neck pain, headaches, and shoulder impingement. They’ll also prevent your lower traps and lats from working during exercise. Use the barbell to release your upper traps before you bench press. You’ll likely prevent injury down the line, and see better results.

Barbell Upper Trap Release

  • Place a weighted barbell in a rack, and stand with your shoulder under the bar, halfway between the neck and edge of the shoulder.
  • Move left and right until you find a tender area.
  • Shrug your shoulder up and down for 45 seconds or until the tension resolves.

4. Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are known for their exercise versatility. Adding them to any standard exercise, like squats or leg extensions, will add an extra challenge. But did you know they can also be a tool to get your body back into alignment? Here’s a self-mobilization move using the resistance band that will help activate your shoulder girdle muscles so that your shoulder blades are in the optimal position to do any exercise.

Scapular Mobilization

  • Anchor a loop band at shoulder height, then facing away from it, loop the band around the front of your shoulder (like where a backpack strap would lay). Walk forward so there is tension on the band.
  • Start with your arm straight out in front of you at shoulder height, thumb up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulder down and back, holding it in place during this move.
  • Bring your arm backward in a reverse fly motion while attempting to squeeze your shoulder blade back and down. Bring arm back to starting position.
  • Repeat this sequence for 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

5. Dumbbells

There are nearly endless options for working dumbbells into your routine. Now, add push-ups to that list. When most people go to do a push-up, they tend to overuse their chest muscles when then should be using their back muscles as well. Using dumbbells will help get you in a position that allows you to fire your scapular stabilizers (low traps, midtraps, lats, and serratus anterior). Now that you’ve got those muscles firing, you’ll see improvements in your posture and overall performance with upper-body workouts.

Serratus Anterior Stabilization Push-Ups

  • Place dumbbells on floor, about three inches outside your shoulders, perpendicular to the body.
  • Start in a raised position, abs and glutes engaged, back flat, and head in a neutral position. Punch forward with shoulders to engage serratus anterior.
  • Slowly lower toward the floor, stopping when elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Raise to starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.

Scapular Stabilization Push-Ups

  • Place dumbbells on floor, about three inches outside shoulders, turned outward at 45-degree angles.
  • Start in a raised position, abs and glutes engaged, back flat, and head at a neutral position. Punch forward with shoulders to engage serratus anterior.
  • Slowly lower toward the floor, stopping when elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Raise to starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.