The key to success whether you are trying to lose weight, gain muscle, perform better or just have a quality life is to stay consistent along your journey. Nothing beats consistence. But in order to make consistency a sustainable habit you need some tools to help you get there.
Most of you know that the main roadblocks the you face when you jump into your fitness routine are: - muscle soreness (feet, hamstrings, neck, shoulders) - muscle tightness and joint pain
- not enough time to recover
Here's my favorite things I've been using for the past 5 years that helped me to perform better and be more consistent no matter where I go.
1. Foam roller and lacrosse ball
The easiest of all. Most of us have seen and used it at the gym or were offered to use by a coach. It's so simple by yet hard to do. Both of these tools provide similar effect - myofascial release, massaging a top layer of the muscle and deeper into joints and deep tissue to improve blood circulation and muscle recovery.
Foam roller ($20) (aka big brother) is great for targeting big surfaces (glutes, hamstrings, quads) and the lacrosse ball ($4) (aka small brother) is for smashing small areas to go deeper in a muscle tissue or joints (creating an uncomfortable feeling).
Personally, every time I need to travel a lacrosse ball is the first thing that goes in my bag. My lower back kills me if I sit on the plane for more than 2 hours. All I need to do is to put this little ball against the back rest and gently press it into my lower back or slip it under the hamstring and the pain goes away. It's a life saver for a fraction of a cost. I use both of these tools at least 3 times a week for 10-15 minutes. For information on how to use it I would suggest to go to YouTube and search for Kelly Starrett (aka Supple Leopard).
Bottom line: It's a self massage tools for deep muscle stimulation that requires some work. Use roller at the gym/home and take the ball when you travel.
2. Massage Pillow.
This was a Christmas gift from my girlfriend. I felt in love with it the minute I tried it. It's a hands off approach (what can be better). Turn this Massage Pillow ($45) on put under your sore spot and watch Netflix. It will do the rest. The device works best for hamstrings, glutes, lower back, shoulders. If you thought it was it you'll be surprised. It has a heater built in (on/off) just what you need to warm up your muscles. Every session is set for 20 minutes and I use it at least once a week (up to 60 minutes).
It was such a hit that we had to re-gift it to her father and purchase another one for myself.
Bottom line: Great hands off tool for muscle recovery and pain relief. Portable. Not wireless. Not so good for travel. I keep it at home.
3. Massage Slippers.
Another gift from my lovely fiance (at this point). I stopped wearing any other slippers at home. It will hurt at the beginning and you won't be able to wear it for more than 5-10 minutes but your feet will get used to it in a week. I wear it daily now.
My feet are always sore and very sensitive. I spend most of my day on my feet. Some days I dream about getting a food rub. I even have a member card to a foot massage center that give you every 10th session free (I've gone through it twice over the course of 6 months, 20+ massages)
First time I put this Slippers ($19) on I got goose bumps. The buttons positioned to apply acupressure points on the sole of your foot or heel pain and tension due to arthritis, neuropathy and other ailments.
Bottom line: Another hands off approach. It hurts at first. Very portable.
4. Acupressure Mat
You won't believe me but it was another gift. This time from my sister in law. This Acupressure Mat ($35) is like an entry level of doing acupuncture that provides IMMEDIATE back and neck pain relief in the comfort of your home in as little as 20 minutes per day. Other benefits include improved sleep, circulation, and mood as well an increase in energy levels. Like most things described above this will hurt at the beginning and get easier and more pleasant overtime. Don't start lying on it topless because it will hurt and irritate your back if you have a sensitive back. Start with a t-shirt on. Work up to 10 minutes, then 20, only then take your shirt off.
It's a great hands off recovery tool. I watch/read something while doing the treatment.
It may hurt and make your back itchy at first. Cold showers seem to remove that sensation.
Bottom line: Another great hands off tool for blood circulation and muscle recovery, very portable and light, takes some time to get used to.
5. Contrast shower.
I saved it for the last. This is by far the most effective and affordable to this day. Coming from post USSR country (Belarus) I've learnt this trick way back when I was a little kid. Everybody coming from that part of the world will tell you that they've tried it at some point of their life. It became an essential part of our lifestyle. It's like a cliche when you ask someone about Russia all you can hear is vodka, bears and COLD, Well there goes your explanation of the cold and why we love it.
Contrast shower = hot/cold x many times. It's a process of changing body temperature from hot to cold and back again. It's normally done by immersing yourself in hot then cold water (back home we jump in the snow). It helps to boost your immune system and your circulation by ‘shocking’ your body with contrast therapy.
Contrast shower isn’t a new tool: many athletes have been using it for years to reduce inflammation and support muscle injuries.
There are many benefits to it. The most common of them are...
1. PREVENT DOMS (DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORENESS)
Exposure to cold water helps to reduce inflammation and injury by restricting blood flow to the affected area. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to shrink or tighten up, reducing blood flow and thus inflammation. This is known as vasoconstriction. Heat, on the other hand, causes vasodilation: the widening of blood vessels. Vasodilation allows more blood to flow to affected tissues or limbs.
2. BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Scientists have shown that switching between hot and cold water provides a substantial boost to your immune system. It appears that the contrast in temperature increases the number of disease-fighting immune system cells in your body, including an important type of white blood cell called monocytes.
Other sources say that alternating between hot and cold showers for 90 sec/day can help prevent common illnesses such as colds and flu. This is a fantastic way to help your body fight off the virus.
You are building a stronger defense system.
3. BOOST CIRCULATION
Contrasting temperatures increase circulation by causing your heart to send blood rushing to your vital organs. Over time, this forces your circulatory system to become more efficient and adaptable.
A better circulation means you’re able to heal faster because nutrients are being constantly transported around the body. Your peripheral tissues will be nourished and maintained properly, which has enormous benefits for longevity. Those with poor circulation, high blood pressure, and diabetes are ideal candidates for more efficient circulation.
If your circulation is slow and sluggish, these toxins can linger for longer periods of time in your body, and may even be reabsorbed into your tissues. That’s why healthy circulation is so important!
4. MAY HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS
There's not enough of scientific evidence, some reports claim that regular contrast showers may support or stimulate weight loss.
It has something to do with the different types of fat: white fat and brown fat. White(bad) fat refers to adipose fat, which is generally formed due to consuming excess calories. Brown(good) fat, on the other hand, is the type located around the collar bones, neck, sternum and upper back. Brown fat is important because it generates fuel (heat) by burning white fat. Brown fat also helps to keep your body warm. Check out Wim Hoff talk about brown fat cells.
There's a theory that by suddenly exposing your body to cold water, your brown fat will start to burn your white fat – that is, you’ll burning fat with fat.
Fun fact: People who live in cold counties have more brown fat than people who live in warm countries.