When I ran my first 26.2 miles almost 10 years ago, my mind was at an all-time high and I felt like I could do anything. When I had a go on the treadmill the next day, however, my body screamed no. Luckily, I didn’t fall flat on my face, but that close-call gave me a reality check that my body isn’t invincible, and that it needs to recover.
There is an insurmountable number of recovery tools out there for post-marathon and marathon training. From the usual massage sticks to products that resemble torture devices, these tools will help you feel superhuman afresh—just in time for that next race.
Hot or Cold?
Runners often debate on whether it’s best to treat soreness with heat or ice. Both are effective in muscle recovery; the trick is to know the timeline for application. Ice reduces inflammation and numbs the pain, making it your best bet post-race, as heat can exacerbate swelling when directly applied to an injury. It’s recommended you apply heat a couple days after a race, when it will soothe your muscles and encourage blood flow.
Companies like GoFit and Moji have developed tools that you can leave in your freezer or microwave in minutes to reap the benefits of ice and heat recovery. You no longer have to rely on a leaky,lopsided bag of ice cubes or hot compress; the GoFit Polar Roller, for example, easily targets inflamed muscles without getting your hands wet.
Old and New
When we rolled out recovery tool testing, there were a few old standbys we had to include. The Stick, for instance, is from high school cross country meets of yore, when you’d knead your muscles on bus rides home, and pass it along to teammates still on that post-race high. The ProStretch is another mainstay; that little blue device usually found in fitness centers and college gyms has saved many a calf from cramping after a hard treadmill workout.
There were also the odd-looking tools we called in that worked wonders. The Hypervolt resembles a hairdryer and sounds like it will turn your muscles to mush at level 3, but the staff kept passing it around until at one point it went missing (it was found safely stowed away in our creative director’s office). The R8 has a vice-like grip that our thighs and calves craved after arduous track workouts. And the Knot Bad, which looked like a cane you’d use to swipe failing acts offstage, gave a satisfying massage to the underside of our weary shoulder blades throughout the work day.
The Choice Is Yours
I’ll admit you can also find makeshift recovery tools at home; tennis balls, hand towels and frozen water bottles are easily accessible, less pricey and more or less do the trick when it comes to plantar fasciitis, tendonitis or nasty knots. But if you want to venture out and see what’s available for a deeper, more accurately targeted, hands-free experience, here are 14 tools to get you on the recovery train and ready for your next marathon.
I like that the Hypervolt has three power settings and is whisper quiet. Combined with how forcefully—or not—you press the massager into your muscles, it offers the greatest versatility I’ve found for daily treatment when I’m not able to visit a masseuse. For example, when passing it over the length of an IT band, I’ll crank it up to level 3 and not be afraid to use some elbow grease. Relieving achy shoulder muscles, on the other hand, requires a more delicate touch that I can get with the slowest speed. —Jeff Dengate
Addaday Knot Bad
I found the lightweight, ergonomically shaped hook—its looks akin to a shepherd’s staff or plant hanger—very intuitive to use. I was able to target tight and sore areas all over my body. I often used the Knot Bad while sitting at my desk after a lunch run, resting the curved end on my shoulder and kneading the node along my shoulder blades and neck. Though it did earn me a few odd stares from coworkers, it was worth the double-takes. I was also able to apply the curved end to the arches of my feet without having to bend down, straining my back—and the 2-foot Knot Bad is much harder to misplace than a tennis ball. The grips along the stem provide leverage so you don’t have to work too hard to get good pressure, while the nodes work like a masseuse’s thumbs on my calves. There isn’t a tight muscle on my body that this tool couldn’t reach. —Erin Benner
Old and New
RW has covered NormaTec in the past and the boots have gone down as the stuff of legends; any mention of recovery gear and staff were asking, “Are we going to get in the NormaTec boots? Who’s going to test them?” As a NormaTec virgin, I was skeptical of these miracle boots everyone was so crazed about, but after I unpackaged the Pulse Recovery System, slid the boots on and pressed play on the control unit, I’m thinking a weekly—or twice-weekly—NormaTec session will be that new habit I just can’t quit.
The boots inflate and squeeze through a series of zones from your feet to your hips, and the compression levels run from 1 to 7. I’ll admit notching it to 5 made me grimace when the boots compressed in certain areas, but it felt luxurious just sitting with my laptop and a glass of wine, and letting the boots work their magic. My legs were refreshed after only a 30-minute session. My only hangup is the four-figure cost. It’s a pricey investment, so maybe for a Christmas/Birthday/apartment warming gift. Anyone? —Amanda Furrer
Roll Recovery R8
The R8 uses two parallel rollers attached to a handle that clamp together over your muscles. It’s most effective on the quad, hamstring and IT-band area. The rollers are about 6 inches long and each have four ribs, which is a more effective shape for getting deeper into the muscles. The two rollers pull apart with handles on the outside so you can position it around your leg. It is currently only available with one setting, but applies pretty intense pressure (at least, in my opinion and several others in the office who have tried it). —Riley Missel
GoFit Polar Roller
Before I discovered the Polar Roller, I used a makeshift ice pack, which was problematic because the ice cubes would move around and melt, and the bag would eventually leak. GoFit’s Polar Roller spares me from constantly shifting my pack—and mildew on my rug.
The tool is a 6-inch long handheld roller with a detachable rubber grip, so you can just pop off the metal ball and place it in the freezer. GoFit recommends you freeze the ball for two hours minimum but I’ve found an hour does the trick. The ball stays cool longer than an ice pack, and I store it in the freezer since it doesn’t take up much space, and it’s ready for me whenever I need it. —Amy Wolff
The right tool for: Warming up and recovering at your desk
Electrical stimulation might seem like an intimidating or tedious recovery method, but the Marc Pro’s ease of use makes “stim” recovery as easy as placing electrodes on your skin and turning on the TV. The Pro’s “dynamic decaying waveforms” contract muscles with longer waves than other muscle stimulators, the company claims
Moji Heated Roller
The right tool for: Turning up the heat with foam rolling
Do your muscles need a little extra encouragement to loosen up? The Moji Heated Roller combines two techniques for soothing soreness. It’s easy to use: twist the two halves of the foam roller apart, and pop it in the microwave for three minutes or less. It heats up and stays warm for 30 minutes, and is pretty hot when it first comes out—I’d give it a minute or two to cool down—but once the temperature is right, it’s awesome. I’ve found it makes tough foam roller moves (like hitting my IT band) feel almost pleasant. And I can guarantee I’ll be using it on the reg after cold winter runs. —Taylor Rojek
The Moji Heated Lower Back Wrap
The right tool for: The chronically achy who don't have patience for a bath
The Choice Is Yours so good. The microwave-activated ceramic beads in the heating pad help release tension and promote circulation in your lower back, which is great for stimulating recovery after a long run or helping warm up stiff lower back muscles before you head out the door. It comes in three sizes (small, medium and large), and the straps have pockets to pull on to make it easier to fasten. Its four-way stretch compression fabric is comfortable, and the pad holds heat for up to 30 minutes—so you better believe I walked around the office wearing it. —R.M.
EvoFit Ensō Roller
The right tool for: Instantly soothing your aching Achilles
The Ensō Adjustable Roller is the ultimate recovery problem solver. In the past, I’ve had two rollers for different purposes: a firm one for my lower legs and Achilles, and a softer one for my hips, IT band and back. This roller from Ensō simplified my post-run rolling because I could adjust the number, size and arrangement of the soft foam discs along the aluminum tube to effectively roll any running-related muscle. My Achilles felt better than they have in weeks after I rolled them out directly against the aluminum tube, with a 5-inch disc at each end. —Gabriel Lodge
The Stick Sprinter Stick
The right tool for: Sore leg muscles and those who want to pack light
The Stick makes handheld massage sticks in a variety of lengths and firmness. It’s necessary that I have a massage tool for my tired legs after long runs. No matter how effective the product, if it won’t fit in my bag, I won’t carry it. That’s why the Sprinter Stick (19 inches) is my new go-to massage tool. It’s the firmest of the Stick’s product lines but still lightweight and as easy to use as the Travel Stick. I mostly use it on my legs but I’m able to target my shoulders when reaching my arms around my neck, grabbing each end of the wand. The Sprinter Stick is perfect after track workouts or rolling out your legs after long runs; a great tool to have on-hand as I train for my first marathon this year. —A.W.
Rumble Roller Beastie
The right tool for: Your most stubborn knots
The small-but-mighty Beastie isn’t for wimps. The ball has stiff spines that allow you to focus the pressure on specific areas better than the broad side of a foam roller would. You can order it with different attachments to help you hit the spot without needing to get on the floor: a base, a back-massage hook, or a wall mounted base or bar are available as additions. It comes in two options: the green one is about as stiff as a lacrosse ball, and the clear version has spines that are a bit more flexible. Plus, the Beastie is discreet—it’s 4 inches in diameter, so it easily fits in a purse or bag. —Riley Missel
Tiger Tail The Classic
The right tool for: Runners looking for a compact roller they can use at their desk
I love that I don’t have to get on the floor to use this roller! I feel like a get the similar benefits of a foam roller but I can control the pressure more with the super-comfy bike handlebar-style grips. The roller itself is firm but has a little bit of give. It feels amazing on my quads and calves. It’s the perfect size—18 inches—to fit inside a gym bag or backpack. Also available are The Roadster (11 inches) or The Long One (22 inches). Oh—and we even were able to use it on our dog’s hips and he seemed to enjoy it. —E.B.
Roll Recovery R3
The right tool for: Anyone who has plantar fasciitis
I really loved this tool. I put it on the floor of my office and worked out my plantar fascia (the fibrous tissue in the bottom of your foot) while at my computer. Unlike my usual foot massager, a lacrosse ball, the R3 has two different size grooves so you can move it around to knead all the intricate tendons and ligaments. It’s easier to use than a ball because it only rolls back and forth so I could really control what spot it was hitting. It’s also super easy for travel. —E.B.
The right tool for: Getting a deeper calf stretch
Almost every gym I’ve gone to has had a ProStretch laying on its side next to the dumbbell rack or a rowing machine. It’s so simple to use and feels glorious on the calves after a hard treadmill session—it’s also so underrated. I like how the device makes me fall deeper into a stretch. Your calves, Achilles tendon, plantar fascia, shins and hamstrings can all benefit from standing in the ProStretch and gently rocking and pushing your foot into its cradle. The Plus is $10 pricier but it has an adjustable heel and removable toe lift that you can change up for deeper flexion. —A.F.