Trigger Ball’ing – are you doing it right?

Trigger ball work and foam rolling have become extremely popular over the few years as more people begin to realise and appreciate the importance of flexibility & mobility.

Active RX Physio has recently started to run a free trigger ball class twice a week at the gym and what we’ve found is that many people are still unsure what they are supposed to be doing, what they should feel & why it’s so beneficial.

As a result we felt the need to clarify some of the common questions we’ve gotten over the last month.

What does trigger ball release actually do?

We store a heap of tension in the soft tissues throughout the body. The deep pressure from a trigger ball can help to break down these bands of tightness which can inhibit the function of a muscle or joint. A tight muscle doesn’t work as efficiently or effectively as a muscle that supple & mobile. Trigger ball’ing is a self massage technique that can allow you to self treat & manage areas of stiffness that develop as a result of day to day activity.

Should it be painful?

This is certainly the most frequently asked question. Trigger ball work will have some degree of discomfort but it shouldn’t be excruciatingly painful. We are attempting to release tight bands of muscle and connective tissue which is inherently going be mildly uncomfortable. Aim for tolerable discomfort, you should be able to feel the pressure of the ball but still be able to deep breathe comfortably and hold a conversation, anything above that you should modify the position slightly to reduce the pain/pressure.

Are the specific spots I should be targeting?

This comes down to the individual and everyone will have different areas of tension. Sure there are common spots that are prone to getting knotted up; for office workers it’s often the mid back and shoulders, while runners always have spots through the quad and TFL (you should see some of the facial expressions we see when we do this one in class!!). Basically if you are on a spot that feels perfectly fine then move on, find the areas that need a little TLC and focus your time there. Not only is it different from person to person but you may find one side tighter than the other and some days different areas will be tight! Explore your body and trigger ball where YOU NEED IT.

How long should I be doing this for?

We try and encourage people to make trigger ball’ing and mobility work a regular practice. 2 minutes is considered the minimum amount of time you should spend on an area. On a particular sore spot you might spend a good 30 seconds or take 4-5 big deep breathes, when you feel the pressure reduce and the muscle relaxes you can shift the ball slightly to target a new spot in the same general area. Remember don’t waste your time on spots that don’t need it!

How many times a week would help?

Consistency is they key to making longstanding improvements in mobility & flexibility. It’s better to spend 10 minutes each day for 5 days than spend 50 minutes once a week.

Should I do this before or after my workout?

The best answer to this question is which ever scenario gets you doing it more consistently. Both have their benefits. Before exercise will help to loosen up tight muscles allowing you to move through greater range during your training session. After exercise can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system which can aid in recovery and muscle repair. Keep in mind that if you do your trigger balling before training make sure you follow it up with some active movements through range to get the body dynamically prepared for your workout.

Whats the best ball?  Big, small, spikey, smooth, hard, soft?

This will come down slightly to personal preference. Having a couple of different balls will help as different areas will work better with different sized balls. For example your thoracic spine (mid back) will benefit from a smaller ball compared to a larger muscle such as your glutes. What we find best is a ball roughly the size of a tennis ball with a smooth surface and a tiny bit of give to it (not as soft as a tennis ball but not as hard as a hockey/cricket ball). This seems to be the best option as a one ball option as the spikes and/or super hard balls can get a little too uncomfortable.

Questions? Feel free to contact Active RX via email – activerxphysio@gmail.com of if you live in the area our door is always open and we would love you to stop by!