Video: Soften Your Hardbody

The secret to achieving a more toned physique: DIY deep-tissue work.

Fitness devotees tend to get stuck in our ways — quite literally — but complementing your regular regimen with some yoga therapy ball work can actually further your progress. "If you're all clamped up and contracted, you need to get rid of the knots so you can increase your range of motion and allow the muscle to contract the way it's supposed to," says Jill Miller, founder of the Yoga Tune Up method taught at Equinox clubs nationwide. "Rolling your body on yoga therapy balls provides a deep tissue massage you would get from your physical therapist or orthopedic massage therapist. This is a very, very targeted massage."

The premise may sound simple, but the payoff is significant: The pliable rubber balls grab hold of your skin, through your clothing, to stimulate specific nerve endings that have a sedative, pain-killing effect. "The grip, grab and penetration of the balls turns off the pain signals so you can move better. And if you can move better, you can get a better workout," says Miller. 

Consider it the yin to your kettlebell-swinging, treadmill-pounding yang. "For most, self-massage or myofascial release sounds like a nice thing to do at a spa, but we hold that it is critical daily hygiene for the active body and especially for anyone who cares about high performance," says Lashaun Dale, national creative manager for group fitness. "Myofascial care has shown to improve flexibility, function, performance and reduce injuries."

Watch the video above to see Equinox yoga instructor and certified Yoga Tune Up instructor Ariel Kiley, who helped design this routine, begin her day with a session. Perform each move in this sequence for 90 seconds to 2 minutes, moving seamlessly from one move to the next. "Each person needs to find their own timing for these moves," says Miller. "Basically, you should do the move until you 'make change' — in other words, until tension subsides and pain disappears."  

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(1) Thoracic Mow: Standing against a wall, place balls between shoulder blades on either side of spine. Bend and straighten knees to “mow” the balls up and down the length of the thoracic spine (the upper and middle back).

(2) Rhomboid Wringer: Standing against the wall, place balls between shoulder blades, wrap arms around chest in a hug, and ‘swivel’ shoulders while bending and straightening knees to swirl the YTU balls up, down and all around the rhomboids (the muscles of the upper back).

(3) Figure 8 Butterfly: Lie on the floor and place a ball under each buttock, keeping soles of feet together and knees open. Swirl hips in a figure-8 motion to move balls all over the flesh of the buttocks.

(4) TFL Push & Pull: Lying on right forearm, with right leg extended on floor, left knee bent and foot on floor behind right knee, place balls under tensor fasciae latae (or TFL, the small muscle at the top outer edge of the hip) of right hip, point and flex right foot to roll balls up and down the TFL. Repeat on opposite side. 

(5) ITB Criss-Cross: Sit on floor with right knee bent, thigh on floor, left foot flat on floor behind right knee. Place right hand on floor to support yourself, then position balls beneath the ITB of right leg. Roll balls back and forth across ITB (called “cross-fibering”), keeping right foot in contact with floor. Press left hand into inner thigh to increase pressure. Repeat on opposite side.

(6) Shoulder Shimmy: Lie on back and pin one ball beneath each shoulder, just above shoulder blades. Lift hips into bridge position and extend arms outward, forming a T. Shimmy shoulders from right to left.

(7) Trapezius Chug: Lie on back and pin one ball beneath each shoulder, close to the neck at the upper traps. Keeping arms on floor, extend them overhead and lift hips into bridge position. Take a few breaths of sustained compression, keeping balls in place, then push and pull floor with feet to ‘chug’ balls up and down into upper traps.

(8) Mid-Back Ball-Induced Backbend: Lie on floor and place balls under mid-back (approximately 8th thoracic vertebrae). Flex arms on floor overhead and breathe.

Video by Dstllry.  Shot on location at the Hudson Hotel.