Updated: Nov 2, 2020
I've tried and owned a great deal of recovery accessories. There are TONS of products out there designed to keep you healthy! Some are incredible and some are duds. I've ranked the ones I consider the most useful, from "absolute must-have" through "pricy, but may be helpful for some."
I have purchased all of these products with my own money (usually at a discount), or been given them by individuals unaffiliated with the companies. No products were provided by companies, or on condition of a review.
Lacrosse Ball, Baseball and Softball
Easy to find, and cheap! These are all amazing tools for releasing various tight muscles. Try the lacrosse ball on your glutes and other hip external rotators, and the baseball or softball for your psoas! You can also duct-tape two lacrosse or tennis balls together to make a roller for your thoracic spine–another common trouble spot for modern humans! See this post for some basic mobility work.
Hip Halo (or other Bands)
These are the go-to for strengthening, especially in the frontal plane! Try some of the Myrtl routine with a band, and add some Monster Walks in various angles of squat. You can get the Hip Halo at Rogue Fitness. I'd recommend the red version for most athletes. I got the blue version because it was on sale, and I can use it, but for fewer reps. (Though it's perfect for Monster Walks).
These are used for Instrument-Assisted Soft-Tissue Mobilization (Graston). You don't need one of the expensive brands; there are great versions around the internet in the $25-40 range that work great. In a pinch, you can even use a spoon, preferably one of nice quality with a rounded edge. Slap on some olive or coconut oil, or your favorite recovery balm, and scrape gently. This can do great things for soreness in the lower legs, and toe flexors especially, but can also help achilles and plantar fascia soreness. Go slow and light at first just for a few minutes. More details here.
This is a unique one, but can be really helpful. It combines compression, tension and movement all at once; while other tools only offer one or two. simply wrap the band with the little balls on your sore muscles, and then do some mobility work with it on. Don’t leave it on for more than two minutes! It’s not the most comfortable treatment, but it can definitely help. Get one here.
Do you get sore feet and lower legs? You can strengthen your toe flexors, posterior tib and more with this tool. Don't underestimate it's power... start off with a small dose! You can buy the ToePro here.
This is a little more expensive, but also does a great deal to strengthen the feet and lower legs. It works differently than the Toe Pro, and strengthens muscles in a different way. It will get you to finally use that big toe for stability and push off! Get one here.
Roll Recovery R8
Do you struggle with making time to foam roll? Travel a lot and can't take too many tools with you? Have obnoxious pets that won't leave you alone when you're trying to roll? This is a pricy tool, but can be SO helpful. You can now pack it in a briefcase or carry-on with ease, roll while watching TV on the couch, chatting with your family, etc. I've found it particularly helpful for the sides of the lower legs! I take this to every race I run, and when people experience it for the first time, it’s almost always met with “WOW….aghhhh ow ow I didn’t know I was even sore!” Get one here or at your local run specialty store.
Accumobility Flat-Bottom Ball
Lacrosse balls are a wonderful tool for under $5, but they roll around on you, and it's hard to allow movement in the muscle while keeping the ball still. Enter the Accumobility ball. It has a flat base, and is a bit taller than a lacrosse ball, with a similar diameter to the "ball" portion. Now you can easily put your affected muscle through it's range of motion for better release. I'd recommend the "Level 2" ball unless you are too sore for a lacrosse ball. Get one at Rogue Fitness, or cut off a short length of PVC pipe to put your lacrosse ball in.
While there is research to support the beneficial use of vibration while rolling, we're definitely getting into the realm of the Vibrating balls and rollers, as opposed to lacrosse balls and regular foam rollers, can sometimes encourage muscles to release and relax a bit more. Examples include the Hypersphere and Hypersphere Mini (I'd recommend the mini size; around baseball size), and the TimTam Polish Light. The TimTam version includes heat which can be extra helpful, but isn't quite as nice a product overall.
Now we're getting pricy! These can be really helpful for people training hard, and you'll occasionally see physical therapists use them, but you'll definitely pay for it. Examples include the TimTam, Theragun, Hypervolt and about a million knockoffs you've probably seen Facebook Ads for. If you're going to spend the money I would do one of two things.
A. Make your own with a brushless jigsaw. It's easy to do, and will save you several hundred dollars. You can use some creativity to come up with different tips, and best of all, batteries will be easy to come by if you choose a brand-name tool company. You'll pay less than $100 total, and it’ll be easier to find replacement batteries, etc. Plus, in a pinch, you’ve got yourself a jigsaw!
B. Buy a name brand. Some brands offer refurbished models (TheraGun refurbs here), or you can sometimes find them used. Hypervolt is otherwise the best bang for the buck. TimTam offers heat (as well as an aftermarket heated tip for other brands), but suffers from significant quality control issues and I can’t recommend them at that price point.
I'd consider these a helpful tool, especially if you can make your own or find a refurbished or used model!
Electronic Muscle Stimulators
It sounds painful, but it's not! At least, not when you use it for recovery. These muscle stimulators attach electrodes to certain spots on your muscles, and send small electric signals to contract the muscles, bypassing the brain altogether. You may be familiar with TENS (transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation), and while this looks similar, it's quite different, as it affects the muscles, not the nerves.
This process of activating your muscles without your brain enables you to have active recovery while sitting on the couch. Read more about why you want you muscles "working" to accelerate recovery.