Three years into her career, master SoulCycle instructor Charlee Atkins was teaching up to four classes a day at the boutique spin studio. When the rigorous schedule started to take a toll on her body, she was forced to change her entire approach to exercise. That inspired her to develop a new class based on one piece of equipment she credits with saving her career (and her body): a massage ball (specifically a lacrosse ball). Below, Atkins shares how it changed her fitness game, plus four moves that could do the same for you.
"It got to the point to where I couldn’t perform and I was always exhausted. My body just felt raw."
"It got to the point to where I couldn’t perform and I was always exhausted. My body just felt raw," Atkins says of her life pre-lacrosse ball. "It almost felt like sandpaper in my joints. Everything just hurt, which was just silly because I was 27 at the time." (Not exactly how you want to feel when you're still in your twenties with a physically demanding career just beginning.)
Desperate for relief, she tapped other instructors for tips and advice; one suggested using a lacrosse ball to stretch. She learned to do a hamstring release, which involved putting the lacrosse ball underneath her thigh while she sat in a chair. That tension-relieving move inspired her to stretch more. "The only energy I had left at the end of the day was to basically sit at the end of my bed and just stretch," Atkins says. "I noticed subtle changes in my performance. Then I got into foam rolling and I just geeked out on the subject."
Once she started to finally feel relief, she found a flexibility and mobility workshop in Gainesville, Florida. The techniques she learned there became part of Le Stretch, an entire class devoted to recovery at SoulAnnex in New York City.
"The first thing to go from everyone's workout if they're short on time is the stretch."
"The first thing to go from everyone's workout if they're short on time is the stretch," Atkins says of why she developed her class. "That shows you that most people want to get the workout done instead of what I would call pre-hab—the sort of stuff that's going to keep you going longer."
And it doesn't actually take a ton of time to reap the benefits of the restorative practice. Atkins says to begin with 10 minutes of stretching a day. (You can pick one body part to focus on each day.) For the moves below, she also recommends starting with a tennis ball or other soft ball—especially if you're new to stretching. (The lacrosse ball is dense and can feel pretty intense at first.)
Keep reading for 4 stretching moves from Charlee Atkins you can do anywhere. For each move, try performing the stretch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes per side.
1. Quad stretch
Lay on your right side and place the ball on the outer edge of your right quad in the center of the leg. From there, move the body so the ball is moving in a side-to-side, left-to-right motion. The goal is to let the ball sit in that muscle and massage it out. There’s a lot of real estate so you have a lot to work with—start by pinpointing the tightest spot.
2. Shoulder release
To set up the shoulder release there are two ways to find where to place the ball. (Always make sure you are staying off the spine.) Reach behind you and grab the spot where you would say, "I need a massage," which is the soft tissue area right between the top edge of the shoulder blade and the spinal cord. Place the ball right in that meaty portion or soft tissue portion.
Start on the ground with your knees bent, right hand down by the right foot; from there, elevate the arm up toward the ceiling. (Some people may need to stop there.) If you want to keep going, you can go about halfway down in the opposite direction, but don't go all the way down because you most likely won’t be able to. This will be pretty intense, but try to do it in a five-count: a slow count up and a slow count down.
3. Calf stretch
Lay down on your back and stack two yoga blocks toward the end of the mat. Place the ball on top of the block, then place your leg on top of the ball. Point and flex the toe or roll the ball side to side, in a left-to-right motion.
4.Glute release (set-up)
Place the ball right onto the glute, but more laterally on the hip. (Think of a pair jeans—it would be the outer edge of a back pocket.) The ball should go where you would say, "Man, my hips are tight."
5. Glute release
Find the location (on the outer edge of the right hip, behind the body) and lay down on top of the ball. Lift your right foot off the ground; keep your left foot and left leg right where it is; lower the right thigh slowly with the bent knee over toward the right, and then raise it back up.
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