by Nick Taylor
What a happy surprise when I spied some foam rollers and a Bosu ball in the clubhouse of the place where I play tennis. We had time before the match and I got down and rolled my i-t, or iliotibial, bands and then I turned the Bosu ball upside down and did a series of squats.
My legs felt stronger and steadier than they often do on a Saturday morning at 8:45 a.m. and I was ready to play.
Normally my group and I rush on to our courts with minimal stretching and start to play after ten minutes of cursory warm-ups. We’re competitive players, and once or twice a season someone strains a muscle, or twists an ankle or a knee.
That’s why I was glad to find this new area at Gotham Stadium Tennis, in the Bronx, New York, where we can all roll and stretch before we run on to the court.
Play without at least a good stretch is a prescription for injury in players of any age, and we baby boomers need better prep to keep our games up to speed.
If you’ve spent any time in a fitness club you’ve probably heard about foam rolling. Or you’ve seen men and women on the floor usually on Styrofoam rollers about twice as thick as rolling pins and maybe three feet long. Simply put, rolling is a way of using your body weight to give yourself a muscle-loosening massage.
But it’s surprising how many people don’t know about it.
Crunch Gym fitness manager Josh Feldman introduced me to rolling before a workout. He showed me how to target the i-t bands — the groups of muscles along the outer thighs between your hip and knee – because they are probably the most important to maintaining unimpaired mobility.
You work out the knots and loosen and lengthen the muscles. This in turn reduces stress on the knees because it lets the muscles do their work without throwing the burden onto the joint.
The calf muscles are also important when it comes to keeping your game shape. Rolling them to keep the muscles flexible reduces stress the ankles would otherwise absorb.
Other muscle areas also benefit.
The first few times you roll, it hurts like hell. You feel the knots in your muscles as you press down. They talk to you and if you press hard and long enough, you feel them ease. You notice the effects right away. While it’s painful, it gets easier.
Once you get started, you’ll find yourself working up from the least dense of the rollers – the ones at my gym are white – through the blue and on to the densest, the ones with the least give, which are black. There are also orange rollers with ridges so that you can bear down even more intensely on specific muscles. And if you have a really high pain threshold you can just use a PVC pipe.
I work with the black roller and that’s the one I found at Gotham Stadium Tennis Center. I roll before I work out and now before I play tennis. I run better and – fingers crossed – have avoided the tweaked hamstrings and other little nagging injuries that keep me from playing my best.
I don’t have any stake in the business side of this, but as a Baby Boomer athlete I do have a stake in making sure that I can continue to play and can encourage other older players to stay healthy so we can always get a game together.