The Anti-Stress Workout

Part massage, part stretch workout, these 6 moves will melt away tension fast.
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On a Roll

You know strong bones and supple muscles are key to looking and feeling younger. But don’t neglect your fascia, the seamless web of connective tissue covering your muscles, bones, and organs. "When the fascia is toned and hydrated, your joints are more flexible, and you feel fewer age-related aches," says Sue Hitzmann, an exercise physiologist in New York City, who created a system of moves for use on a foam roller, called MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique). The exercises also stimulate collagen production to give you firmer skin. Do these moves and you’ll feel results right away; try them every three days for three weeks for significant improvement.

Time it takes: 10 minutes

How often: Three times a week. You can also do some or all of the moves daily or after your normal workout in addition to stretching.

Equipment: You’ll need a foam roller (MELT Roller, $31). Rollers come in various densities. Hitzmann recommends one with more give. A roller that’s too hard may make the moves painful instead of pleasurable.

Complementary workouts: Whether you run, swim, cycle, or do yoga, you’ll notice improved performance if you do these moves.

Use a slow, rolling movement often: If you feel discomfort when you’re on the roller, it’s a sign that the fascia is tight, knotted, or dehydrated. Instead of racing over a tight spot, pause there for two or three breaths until the tissue releases.

Roll from side to side: Also known as shearing, this technique mobilizes tissue layers so they open up and ease restrictions. When you hit a tight spot, position it directly on top of the roller. Hold the roller still while you move over it side to side, going back and forth over the hot spot.

Trainer TipBefore you start your workout, lie on your back for two minutes and notice how your body feels at rest: Is your body touching the floor evenly? Where are you stiff and sore? Return to this position after you finish the moves to see how your body has changed. You should feel more relaxed, flexible, and pain-free.

Purchase the MELT foam roller

Saddlebag Smoother, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Works your hips.

1. Sit on the foam roller, placing your hands wide apart behind you for stability. Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Let your body sink into the roller, holding for four slow breaths. You’ll feel the tissue surrounding your hip begin to release.

Saddlebag Smoother, Part 2 of 2

2. Turn to the left, leaning toward your crossed leg so your weight rests on your hip. Hold for two breaths, and then roll small, slow circles on your hip two or three times, pausing when you hit a tight spot. Switch sides.

Abs Flattener, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Strengthens your deepest abdominal muscles and releases your tight hip flexors.

1. Lie on your back with the roller centered beneath your hips: Don’t let it rest under your lower back. Bring both knees into your chest, keeping your shins nearly parallel to the floor and allowing your ribs to sink into the floor. Place your hands on both ends of the roller for better stability.

Abs Flattener, Part 2 of 2

2. Using your abdominal muscles to stabilize your lower back, lower your left leg to tap the floor with your toes. Avoid arching your back when you move your legs. Do 10 reps, then switch legs and repeat. Do two sets.

Leg Lengthener, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Eases your knee pain and corrects hip imbalances.

1. Lie facedown, with the roller under your pelvis. Place your left forearm on the floor for support and turn onto your left side, resting your hip on the roller.

Leg Lengthener, Part 2 of 2

2. Slowly roll down the side of your thigh from your hip to just above your knee. Hold and roll slowly from side to side over tight spots. When you reach the top of your knee, turn toward the floor and roll up the front of your thigh, keeping your weight on the roller. Repeat two to three times; switch sides and repeat.

Side Stretcher, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Lengthens your sides, improving posture.

1. Kneel in front of the roller and place your right hand in the middle, as if you were giving it a karate chop.

Side Stretcher, Part 2 of 2

2. Stretch your right arm out and slightly to the left, pushing the roller away from you until your arm is extended. Press your left hand into the floor to send your hips to the right as you reach your right arm farther to the left. Hold for four slow breaths, breathing into the right side of your body. Switch sides and repeat.

Quad Releaser, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Stretches and lengthens thighs.

1. Begin lying facedown with your forearms on the ground. Position the roller so you rest on the side bones of your pelvis, not your pubic bone. Tuck your pelvis under so you won’t arch your back. Begin to lower your head to rest on your forearms and bend your right knee.

Quad Releaser, Part 2 of 2

2. Reach your right arm back to grasp your right foot. Try to raise your knee higher, feeling your leg lengthening from knee to hip. Hold for at least three full breaths. Return to start. Switch sides and repeat. Do twice on each side.

Trainer TipAs you roll, you might notice that one side of your body feels less supple than the other. This is normal, Hitzmann says. Do an extra set of these moves on your stiff side, holding at the tight spots. That should balance out your body after 10 workouts.

Posture Perfecter, Part 1 of 2

What it does: Strengthens and lengthens your upper back.

1. Sit on the floor with the roller behind you. Lean your back against the roller so it’s level with your bra strap. Place both hands behind your head. Moving from your ribs, lift your head and curl forward (as if doing a crunch), gently pressing your spine into the roller.

Posture Perfecter, Part 2 of 2

2. Reverse direction and slowly lean back over the roller, making sure not to overextend your neck or lower back. Take a deep breath to engage your abs, and then return to start while you exhale. Repeat three to four times.

Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2007.

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