Proper recovery is a key element for consolidating the gains of a workout and getting you ready for the next one. That's why serious athletes swear by massage, whirlpools, ultrasound and even hypnosis to increase flexibility of muscles and tendons that are sore, stiff and kinked. But you don't need an appointment at a fancy training facility to get the job done, as these at-home recovery devices prove.
On a roll
Trainerbrands TrainerRoller: A 6-inch diameter foam roller with PVC outer sleeve imprinted with instructions and drawings of 12 common myofascial-release recovery exercises.
Likes: Practical, educational, efficient, inexpensive and so easy to use that it makes plain foam rollers obsolete. The rollout exercises, simply drawn and explained in clear English on the comfortable rubber covering, instruct you to hit almost every problem body part and remind you how to do it — good for people like me who often forget how to use these rollers. (An example: "Place roller under calves with arms/hands behind you, then lift glutes off ground and roll back and forth from ankle to knee.") You can do all 12 exercises for a good whole-body warm-up, a cool-down or an effective get-out-of-bed wake-up.
Price: $34.99 for the 24-inch model; $29.99 for 18-inch version. (877) 872-8126; http://www.trainerbrands.com.
Compex Sport Elite Muscle Stimulator: Portable battery-operated device that directs adjustable electrical charges to specific body parts via adhesive electrode contact pads.
Likes: Makes professional-trainer-style recovery easy and convenient. Simply connect each of four color-coded electrical cables to the monitor/controller and the electrodes, which are affixed to sticky pads that you can place on specific muscle trigger points. After you select the desired pulse pattern (programs include "endurance," "resistance," "strength," "explosive strength" and "active recovery"), you can vary the intensity of the pulses by pressing plus and minus buttons (each electrode cable can have a different pulse level). Can be used during a workout with the controller in hand or on a waist-belt attachment. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein during my first bout of experimentation, but ultimately it did seem to aid the recovery of my quads, which had been thrashed from several hard bike and run workouts.
Dislikes: Pricey, although cheaper models — the Performance ($579) and the Edge ($349) — are available now and in October.
Price: $849. (877) 266-7398; http://www.shopcompex.com.
Tenderize your back
Bed of Nails and Halsa Wellness Mat: Two similar padded spike-mats that emulate the ancient bed of nails used 5,000 years ago by Indian yogis for a host of purported benefits, including enhanced blood circulation, relief of chronic pain, release of feel-good endorphins and even cellulite-fighting powers.
Likes: If you've always wanted to feel like a marinated piece of meat, this is heaven. Each product is studded with plastic discs festooned with sharp teeth, which force you to relax and spread your weight. Circulation is definitely increased; I looked like I was sunburned afterward. The Halsa may be better for those with a low pain threshold, though you can adapt to either product by covering the spikes with a bed sheet. The 17-by-27-inch Bed of Nails has 230 discs containing 6,440 1/4–inch spikes, and the 161/2-by-281/2-inch Halsa has 210 discs festooned with 8,820 1/8-inch teeth. The Halsa, the milder of the two, includes a convenient plastic cover with snap closures.
Dislikes: The taller spikes of the Bed of Nails genuinely hurt, making it too uncomfortable for first-timers to stay on very long. The barbs momentarily stay stuck in your back afterward. I felt no recovery effect per se and had no desire to work up to 10 or 20 minutes, as the literature for both products recommends.
The granddaddy of recovery
The Hybrid Stick: New 23-inch version of the Stick, a popular recovery/self-massage device that includes two handles and 13 beveled plastic spindles, including a raised center bevel that allows users to roll out muscles like pizza dough.
Likes: Idiot-proof, bomb-proof and effective. The raised, gently rounded center spindle, combined with the device's slight flexibility, allows for deep penetration into tight spots that the regular Stick can't reach. Good for quick, precise targeting of trouble spots like the calf muscles and the iliotibial bands in the outer thighs. Inexpensive and compact, the 12-ounce Hybrid is easy to bring to races or the gym for warm-up and recovery. No wonder it's beloved by runners, football players and other athletes.
Price: $44.95. (888) 882-0750; http://www.thestick.com or http://www.Intracell.net.
Wallack is the co-author of "Barefoot Running Step by Step." firstname.lastname@example.org