Five fitness accessories to keep you running

As a bona fide running tragic I have a lot running gear. I own four pairs of running shoes, two heavily stuffed drawers of running clothes and a box of exercise equipment. I use it all on a regular basis - except some of the exercise equipment.

So on the weekend I went through the box of tricks to see what could be given to friends or donated to charity. After reacquainting myself with each pain-inducing item, I realised I couldn't part with any of the items because they all help me be a better runner.

My epic fail of a clean-out got me thinking - what are the must-have weapons runners need in their arsenal to get strong and supple muscles and help with recovery? After quizzing running buddies, physios, coaches and sports equipment suppliers, here's the top five essential pieces of equipment you should own.

Foam roller

Melanie Warman has been a running coach for 20 years and is the founder of Boobs On the Run, a social running club for beginners in Sydney. She has several foam rollers of different sizes and recommends them to her clients.

"I actually only started foam rolling two years ago at the advice of my physiotherapist," says Warman. "I find that being able to foam roll properly really helps with my recovery after long runs."

Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release, is used by runners and athletes from all sports to release muscle tightness or trigger points. Some of the benefits of foam rolling are increased blood flow to your muscles, relief from muscle tension, increased flexibility and a reduction in lactic acid build-up in the muscles.

"I personally love the long foam roller because in addition to rolling out tight thigh muscles, I can also maintain my posture by stretching my upper back and shoulders," Warman says.

She adds that foam rolling after each run is a good way to stay on top of any running-related niggles. "If I get a niggle, I'll try to foam-roll it out rather than getting straight on the phone to my physio."


Massage stick

One of the many benefits of a massage stick is that it's easily transportable and can be taken to races for a post-run self-massage. There are many different types of massage sticks available. I have both a flexible and a rigid stick and use them to help relieve muscle pain and discomfort.

Derek Moss from 66fit, which sells physiotherapy, rehabilitation and sports therapy equipment direct to the public online, says massage sticks are excellent for targeting specific knots and tight spots.

"The great thing about a massage stick is that you can control the pressure - and the discomfort or pain level, Moss says. "Our customers use massage sticks on their thighs, calves, arms and back to loosen up any problem areas, enhance muscle performance and reduce the risk of injury."

Acupressure and spiky balls

I often wonder how something small can cause so much pain. Good pain, that is. I use acupressure balls, also known as lacrosse balls, to deeply massage my glutes and the psoas muscle in the pit of my stomach, which tightens up after running. Often the balls come in a set of three, with each colour representing a different density to allow specific pressure application. Use them sitting, standing against a wall or lying on the ground.

Warman tackles her tight glute muscles using a spiky ball. "By the end on a long run or a core workout, my muscles are on fire. I use the spiky ball to self-massage muscle aches and pains and encourage my tensed muscles to relax."

Resistance tube

Most runners know they should perform strength training exercises to help correct muscle imbalances and prevent injuries, and resistance tubing is an affordable and effective tool to help achieve this.

Moss says latex resistance tubing comes in different colours and thickness, representing the varying levels of resistance. "Resistance tubing is a great product to help build strength in the lower limb muscles needed for running such as the quadriceps, groin and glutes, as well as the core."

Next time you head out for a run, fire up your glute muscles beforehand by performing the crab walk exercise using resistance tubing. You'll certainly feel the burn.

Stretch and wobble board

Part of my morning routine involves eating my breakfast cereal while standing on a calf stretch board. As a runner who suffers from super tight calves and cramping, I find this daily ritual a great way to stretch out my Achilles tendon and maintain supple calf muscles. There are lots of great stretch boards available, including some multi-function ones that also allow you to perform step, stretch, rock and balance exercises.

What are some of the tools in your running arsenal? Let us know in the Comments section.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

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