Tennis Ball Massage

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo.  Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.

note: I originally wrote about this topic on but I am republishing it here with some additional information.

Massage therapy has been an important part of high level sports for many years.  It has been known to be beneficial for recovery and injury prevention.  Although good research to prove this either way is hard to come by, I think the majority of coaches would say yes to regular massage therapy for their athletes.  The only downfall is cost and even though one time per month is not an issue for the serious athlete, to go every week may be too much of an economic strain.

But there is one option to the rescue, the great tennis ball.  You can get massage therapy when ever you want for less then $1.  It is a great way to work out muscle knots, trigger points or scar tissue on many parts of your body.


Some Reasons for Tennis Ball Massage

  • improved range of motion

  • reduce scar tissue & muscles knots

  • relax over active muscles

  • supplement your regular massage therapy sessions

It is so simple to use, just roll on it and when you find an area that is painful you have just found the jack pot.  Generally, the more painful it is the more you need to do it. But, if you have found a painful muscle that is not responding to the massage then it is best to seek professional medical advice to rule out other potential issues. If the massage is not responding then you might not be applying the right amount of pressure. Too much pressure and you can make it worse, too little and nothing changes.

The pressure should never be so great that the pain is unbearable. If zero was no pain at all and 10 was unbearable you should never reach a stage where the pressure you are applying goes above a 6 or 7.

For Water Polo players I recommend that you focus on the shoulders since this is the most common area of injury.

Key Points

  • start in the standing positions and progress to lying positions

  • time needed is directly correlated to your tissue health

  • at the beginning you may need ~10 minutes per shoulder

  • after a few weeks this should be down to 5 minutes total

  • perform 2-3x/week

  • can be done before or after training and on days off

Upper-Mid Back Area (Rotator Cuff, Rhomboids, Traps, Levator Scapulae & Latissimus Dorsi)

While standing or lying on the floor, roll the ball around your scapulae (shoulder blade).  You will be hitting mainly the Rhomboids, middle/lower traps and the infraspinatus and teres minor, which are two of the four rotator cuff muscles.  Try to also get right into the posterior (back) part of the shoulder.  This can be very painful, especially in your throwing arm but is very important in keeping your shoulders healthy.  Rolling slightly onto your side will hit more of the lats.  As with the chest, progress from standing to lying.  You may also find that you may need to do a combination of both standing and lying since some areas can be so tender that lying on the floor is just too intense and if the . 


Chest (Pec Major and Pec Minor)

There is no set rule or procedure just slowly roll all over the pecs.  When you find a trigger point, experiment with your body positioning in order to really work it out.  Progress from the standing version to the floor.


Avoid This Kind of Massage 

  • recently injured areas

  • if you have circulatory problems

  • chronic pain conditions (e.g., fibromyalgia)

  • bony prominences/joints

When you first start with tennis ball massage it will probably be the most painful part of your training.  It is very important to remember that the more painful it is, the more you need to do it.  Just keep reminding yourself that it is only going to get better with every session. But please keep in mind that the pain should be manageable and if it is really bad then try the standing versions or body positions that place less pressure on the tissue.

What Is A Trigger Point?

  • a specific area in the muscle where the fibres are over active. 

  • commonly referred to as a knot. 

  • trigger points can disrupt your range of motion, how effectively you move & cause muscle weakness.

You are essentially breaking down your tissues when you do this kind of deep, intense massage and it really only starts or stimulates the healing process.  Therefore, 2-3x/week is more then enough for this type of massage. After the first few weeks you should be able to get by with less and less time, usually just doing a quick pass over the tissue trying to catch the small problems before they become big ones. If you find yourself really sore the day after then take some extra days rest before doing it again. It is probably also a sign that you were a little to aggressive with the massage.

Video Demo:

I will open a thread on the message board with the title of this article. Please leave your comments, questions, suggestions, experiences, ... on the message board.

I can also be reach directly through my website:

Enjoy the pain!

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]