One key to avoiding injury: releasing tight muscles before stretching.
One key to avoiding injury: releasing tight muscles before stretching. "If a muscle is jammed up or restricted, you won't be able to stretch it as fully, because the movement will be limited," says David Reavy. To reach hard-to-get places, pick up a lacrosse ball (we like the Champion Sports NCAA NFHS Certified Lacrosse Ball, $6; amazon.com) and try these moves on each side.
For your back: Hip flexor release
Tape two balls together. Lie facedown with balls just below your hip bone. Lean into the balls and bend knee 90 degrees, swinging foot side to side. Continue for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
For your shoulders: Teres major release
Lie faceup with a ball under and slightly behind armpit. Roll up and down to release muscles under arm and behind shoulder. Tense spot? Move your arm in a punching motion across the front of your body.
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For your feet and ankles: Soleus release
Sit with your calf on top of a ball. Cross your other leg over. Roll up and down over the ball. When you get to a sore spot, point and flex your foot for 30 seconds.
For your neck: Pectoral release
Face a wall with a ball on your chest about 2 inches away from your armpit. Shift side to side. Tender spot? Move your arm and shoulder forward, back, up and down, leaning into ball. Continue for about 45 seconds.