DIY. A necessary evil to many, a beloved pastime to some. But the goal is the same – to reach the pinnacle of home improvement perfection through building, fixing, painting and altering. Of course, as we all know, it can be a never-ending pursuit.
Does this sound familiar to you? A constant path of trying to improve, fixing things along the way and making adjustments… sounds like every runner ever, doesn’t it? The difference between owning shares in B&Q and wanting to be a better runner is, of course, that in the world of home improvements you are looking to make something nicer, and mending any issues if they crop up along the way. In training, we run, trying to improve our performance and prevent injuries before they arise. But we need to know how to fix them if they do.
And just like any DIY project, running improvements are made a lot easier with the right tools for recovery and injury prevention. So, here are some of Trail Running’s top picks for the tools of the trade. This way, you can make sure you’re looking after your body and forming your own recovery toolbox to fix those issues, DIY-style!
Every toolbox needs shiny metal things. Your recovery toolbox deserves the same. For that, we turn to muscle scrapers. Essentially, as Jason Harlton of leading brand Sidekick explains, they are, “A smooth metal or hard plastic tool that is scraped across or pressed into well-lubricated muscle tissue.” Think of it as a personal, portable deep tissue massage device.
Over the past few years, fascial scraping therapies have grown in popularity as a means primarily of aiding injury recovery, although it is based on a centuries-old technique practised in China.
“Dating back as early as 1300 during the Ming Dynasty, Gua Sha comes from the Chinese words for scraping away (Gua) an energy blockage (Sha)”, Jason tells us. “In the modern day, our understanding of the benefits of muscle scraping has changed, but the technique is essentially the same.”
Sounds brutal, but using the surgical steel scrapers stimulates bloodflow to the area, to promote healing and recovery in the target spot. It is much like a massage, manipulating the muscle fibres and fascia in a very targeted manner. Whilst it may seem daunting or even risky at first, Jason and his team at Sidekick have broken down this technique into simple tutorials on everything from scraping a dodgy plantar tendon to how to cure that neck ache via their ‘Sidekick University’ programme.
And although based on an historic practice, the science behind this form of therapy is growing, with an increasing number of clinical studies now supporting its effectiveness. Jason highlights pain relief, improved bloodflow and even an increased range of motion as key areas in which studies have seen results that strongly suggest the benefits of scraping.
Sidekick offers a range of scrapers, from the pocket-sized Curve tool all the way to their Bow, designed for bigger muscle groups.
Curing issues is one thing, but preventing them from happening is the mark of a professional-standard DIYer. Take the resistance band; a humble tool with sizeable benefits. Less than £20 will pick up a set of these stretchy rubber bands that can be used for all kinds of strength and rehab exercises, particularly around the hips and glutes which are crucial to running.
Even better is that unlike, say, weight training, the use of resistance bands requires very little space and specialist coaching and is great as a warm-up, as a 10-minute circuit after a run, or even as a standalone workout.
Good strength and stability around the major joints is particularly important in preventing injuries in running. Not only does it help improve form and efficiency, but it also allows your body to withstand the repetitive impacts that it is put through during runs. Investing in strength bands is your first step towards becoming a bulletproof runner.
Look in any DIY shop and you’ll likely find a length of rope – you should have one in your runners’ toolbox, too!
Primarily, a rope provides a means of assisting movements in stretching sessions, supporting joints and allowing for deeper stretches to be achieved. Many runners and coaches advocate ‘active isolated stretching’ (AIS), a dynamic stretching technique which (as the name states) isolates certain muscles whilst inducing that stretch response you feel when static stretching.
AIS works on the principle that muscles work in opposing pairs, so in order to stretch one muscle (eg. your hamstring), you simply flex its counterpart (your quad).
To perform any active isolated stretch, flex the opposing muscle to the desired stretch muscle using just your natural range of motion. Once you reach your limit is where a rope or band is key to this programme: pull slightly on the rope to deepen the stretch and hold for no more than two seconds.
When combined with controlled breathing – inhaling when pulling, exhaling on releasing the stretch – active isolated stretching with your rope becomes therapeutic as well as beneficial to the muscles. Studies on AIS have highlighted that it is more likely to result in improved range of motion as well as being better as a pre-run warm-up than static stretching because of the low impact, dynamic movements.
Best of all, if you don’t have a dedicated stretching rope, you can use whatever you may have laying around the house – a belt, a length of rope or even an old rolled up long-sleeved top.
No DIY toolbox would be complete without at least one power tool. How about a massage gun? These drill-like instruments are basically designed to be your own portable masseuse for deep-tissue work on tight muscles.
Using high-speed, repetitive percussions, massage guns are best used to target deep knots and trigger-points in the muscle that traditional foam rollers struggle to reach. A few years ago, you needed a loan of a small fortune to get your hands on one of these, but now you can pick up a decent model for around the £100 mark.
These aren’t just fancy gadgets with little benefit, either. Companies such as Musclevibes have developed products specifically with runners in mind – not least because their founder, Philipp Baar, is a runner himself. The German international represented his country in the 2018 European Marathon Championships and has since brought a range of massage guns to the market based on his personal experience as well as speaking to other runners and sportspeople.
Compared with foam rolling, massage guns are effectively super-charged versions, breaking up adhesions (otherwise known as knots) and stimulating recovery and bloodflow to problem areas.
What’s more, they’re super-simple to use – just switch it on, find a problem spot and let the gun do the work with its repetitive percussions inducing a healing response from the body.