Foam roller & spiky ball for your butt!

In the past I've suffered (like most people) with pain and tightness in my hip and buttock. Sometimes I found that even though they felt tight or sore, when I stretched them, there wasn't much improvement. Then I would perform the same stretch over a foam roller or spiky ball and suddenly the exercise became more effective. 

The primary purpose of this blog is to demonstrate my favourite approaches to using a foam roller and spiky ball to release tightness in my bum muscles. 

So why use the foam roller or spiky ball?

Personally I think it helps to break through adhesions in tissues and creates the same physiological changes which might happen if you had a massage combined with a good stretch. The bonus is that it is an active exercise which you can do for yourself anywhere at anytime. 

I'm generally not one for analogies that don't involve the human body but it this case I'll make an exception. It was once explained to me (on a TED talk) that you bum starts out like a ham and cheese sandwich. Imagine the skin is the bread, the fat is the cheese and the ham is the muscle. In a fresh sandwich the layers are mobile and separable. Turn it into a grilled sandwich and you loose that mobility. Sitting on your bum all day can do this. The idea behind the spiky ball is to friction between layers and try revert your grilled butt sandwich into a fresh one. 

What are you trying to target?

There are three parts of the gluteals that I try to target; the upper portions of gluteus maximus (blue), the deep hip external rotators (yellow) and the hip abductors and muscles sitting posterior to the hip joint (green). 

(Cleland, et al, 2005, p. 249)

Upper gluteus maximus

Upper gluteus maximus

Deep hip rotators & piriformis

Deep hip rotators & piriformis

Lateral gluteals and post hip capsule.

Lateral gluteals and post hip capsule.

WHATS THE BEST WAY TO USE THE FOAM ROLLER AND SPIKY BALL?

I think everyone has their own preferences and its important to try exercises to see if they work for you. Recently I had the amazing opportunity of observing Bruce Hildebrande, a fantastic pilates instructor and director of Balance Control and Pilates in Melbourne. Bruce showed me how to use hip and leg movements to really target the exercise to different regions of the gluteal muscles. Prior to observing Bruce teach my main instruction was to roll up and down the muscle. Bruce changed my perspective on using spiky balls completely by adding in these fine adjustments. 

1. Move the hip in and out of rotation with a bent knee. 

2. Keeping the hip in an outwardly rotated position, then straighten & bend the entire leg to stretch out the muscles positioned under the ball. 

To target the upper portions of gluteus maximus you need to roll along the top line of your hip bone. Usually you need to be pretty flat so don't push up onto a straight elbow unless you can't take your full body weight. Aim to roll along the whole iliac border (hip bone).

In this position you can't really rotate your up in and out so I use my trunk. Roll up and down along the muscle in perfect side lying. You can then roll slight backwards perform a front/back trunk rotation to move closer to the sacrum. This targets a slightly different part of the muscle. With the ball the hip movement is the position that changes. 

Keep the leg straight to start, then once you find a good spot, bend and straighten your bottom leg.  

To target the deep external rotators you need to lift your leg into external rotation, which I've demonstrated in the images below. Try vary the position of the ball/foam roller to the direct middle of your buttock and then lower down almost towards the hamstring. There is often a tighter band lower down that we miss. 

This posture you can't bend and extend the top leg so the focus is more to roll around over the top of the ball. You can also create a trigger point release by taking more then less support through your arms to lower yourself heavier onto the ball. 

Sitting on the foam roller is not as specific (and harsh) as a spiky ball. Use your arms and other leg to support your body weight to create a tolerable discomfort. 

To target the lateral hip muscles you need to pivot onto your side and nest the ball directly behind your hip bone. You can use either position above but its the placement of the spiky ball that determines where you feel it. 

This is the main exercise to start using your hip in and out, up and down to enhance the exercise. The pics below give 2 views for each movement to help you visualise how its done.

I hope you all get a great foam roller or spiky ball and start treating those tight glutes! And if those exercises are too aggressive, start with the stretch positions below and add the roller in after a few weeks of regular practice. 

Top Left: Lying hip external rotator muscle stretch a.k.a piriformis muscle stretch. Top Right: Lying hip flexion/adduction stretch for abductors and extensors i.e glut max and med. Bottom Left: Sitting glut stretch (a progression of top right). Bottom Right: Sitting glut stretch with trunk rotation to target the back as well. 

Top Left: Lying hip external rotator muscle stretch a.k.a piriformis muscle stretch.

Top Right: Lying hip flexion/adduction stretch for abductors and extensors i.e glut max and med.

Bottom Left: Sitting glut stretch (a progression of top right).

Bottom Right: Sitting glut stretch with trunk rotation to target the back as well. 

Always rolling,
Sian :)