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Gear Guy

The Humble Lacrosse Ball Is the Best Recovery Tool

Screaming quads don’t stand a chance

Joe Jackson says, "A lacrosse ball is the duct tape of recovery tools." (Sarah Jackson)
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Screaming quads don’t stand a chance

Five years ago, I decided I wanted to be an ultramarathoner. Or, more precisely, someone who had run an ultramarathon. I had just started as Outside’s Gear Guy and thought that running a 50-mile race would offer an opportunity to test heaps of gear and recovery methods. But I was hasty: I impatiently picked a 50-mile race three months out without ever having run a race in my life.

While I managed to crawl through The North Face Endurance Challenge California, I had to fight through some brutal plantar fasciitis in my right foot that had cropped up in my second week of training. As a nonrunner, I just assumed that ultrarunners existed in some form of perpetual achiness in service to the masochism of the sport and that I was just going to have to deal with the shots of pain working their way through the bottom of my foot and landing like a hot knife in my heel...until a kayaking buddy who works as a massage therapist encouraged me to spend three dollars on a lacrosse ball.

“It is, dare I say, the cure for plantar fasciitis,” he said. “Just roll your foot over it so hard that it hurts.” Since taking his advice, I’ve remained plantar fasciitis–free through thousands of miles. And the lacrosse ball doesn’t work only on my feet; it’s what I grab to work out kinks in my neck when it freezes up, as well as when my hips and hammies scream at me after my first big ski tour of the season.

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(Sarah Jackson)

A lacrosse ball is the duct tape of recovery tools. It’s portable enough to go anywhere and is just the right density to really get in there and work out angry IT bands after tough exercise. But its small size also lets it target and soothe smaller muscles. I’m not saying laying into worked ligaments with a lacrosse ball is a painless method of recovery, but the grimacing is worth it to be able to get up the next day and not have to limp through a run or CrossFit session.

On top of being useful, lacrosse balls are cheap and plentiful. Wander into almost any sporting-goods store and you’ll find one. A fancy vibrating frozen stainless-steel contraption is borderline luxurious, but I’d be out of luck if it were to break or go missing while I’m traveling. If a lacrosse ball rolls away, all I have to do is find the nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods.

You can, of course, use a tennis ball if you don’t want the intensity of rolling out grumpy muscles with a dense, heavy lacrosse ball. But personally, nothing else lets me dig into those angry areas for a deep massage. I guess, like a true ultrarunner, I’ve grown to love the hurt.

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Filed To: Recovery / Gear / Running / Marathon