This talk is long over due. No matter what kind of athlete you are – a bodybuilder, Crossfitter, cyclist, triathlete, runner, swimmer, mountain biker, MMA fighter, yogi (yes, even you) – we need to look at your recovery routine. It’s 2015. Therapeutic massage is not only accessible, but is no longer attached to legitimate taboo. If you’re not using it as part of your training, big sad face on your part. Big.
The drive and commitment to multiple miles, weights, monster truck tires flips, laps, trails, scorpion poses, and knock outs is admirable. You’re building strength and flexibility, alleviating stress, eliminating angst and making a better you all around, right? Sure. That’s fabulous. What’s not so spectacular is the inevitable rebound effect. At some point, everyone gets injured. At some point, the noble endeavor creates tension. Those proverbial walls collide with our muscles and minds.
Before getting proper and quoting research touting the benefits of massage and bodywork, let’s be real. As in really logical. However much energy you expend, your body needs restored. It’s basic to our physiology. Consider breathing, which some of us may recognize as one of life’s vital functions: exhale, inhale. Give out, take in.
￼Think of your muscles as comrades with whom you’re on a daily mission. They will do what you ask. They will share your goal. But they need reassurance you’re not going to exploit their will. They need nourishment to keep moving well and that isn’t done only through calorie consumption and sleep. To continue to give, they must also get (a massage!).
It isn’t just the muscles enduring your athletic demands. The ol’ noggin becomes a subject unto itself. It doesn’t take deep psychology to understand there is often a mental factor driving athletic commitment independent of the will to do them. Often, even when the main mental impetus may be a true love for the sport, there is something a bit more profound. Perhaps there is a void to be filled, something to be excised, or something, belied by the athletic goal, to be proved to the self and/or others.
The benefits of massage actually start with the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves, and work their way into the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. The simple concept of scheduling a massage truly starts the process. You have at least 30 minutes in a room where you are to do nothing but let yourself be taken care of. If you can relax the mind, you relax the body. To relax is to restore and there isn’t one facet of the human condition not in need of a little restoration.
How massage scientifically enhances athletic performance is still an ambiguous area of research. The only continuous theme in the research seems inconsistency.
One study from 2012 at McMaster University found that post-workout massage increased the oxygen utilization in muscle tissue. Yet, another study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2008 (studies of massage and athletic recovery seemed to have dwindled in the last five years) found, through post-workout tissue biopsies, that the assumed benefits, such as reduced lactic acid, increased circulation, and reduced cortisol levels, couldn’t be scientifically proven. Still the study’s director, Michael Tschakovsky, a professor of kinesiology and health studies at the University of Kingston didn’t draw a hard line. In a New York Times article about the study, he said, “Our study does not mean skip massages.” Apparently, his marathoner wife agreed. When told about the results, she responded, “…I’m getting massaged anyway.”
There is the defining guideline – you.
Science is invaluable, but so is human intuition and good old common sense. Why skip something that helps your body feel better? If massage wasn’t integral to athletic endeavors, why, throughout the history, have cycling teams employed soigneurs? Why are there tents filled with massage therapists at the end of many major sporting events? Why did the ancient Roman and Greeks, the original Olympians, employ it as much as they did?
One 40-something triathlete client comes in three to five days before each race and believes his sessions, as part of his very organized training, has enabled him to keep a steady performance history over the last several years. Some cyclists come in every week just to unwind the knots they earn on their weekend rides and keep their quadriceps and hamstrings fresh. Another triathlete, who still trains like she competes but doesn’t, says she couldn’t do what she does without her weekly to biweekly massages. Golfers and their poor, twisting lower back and hips are steady pre- and post-tournament clients.
Injuries will happen no matter how much one gets massaged. However, the work can help lessen the initial and continuing severity of an injury. It also helps keep the rest of the body’s musculature balanced while it compensates for injuries. It, and it bears repeating, just makes the body happy.
No matter the evidence, nothing proves massage to be a detriment or waste of time to athletic performance. Find the schedule that works for your lifestyle and stick with it. It’s not a waste of time if you don’t get massaged every week. It all counts. A more relaxed body and mind simply operate better. Soft tissue that is less inhibited by restriction, knots, general tension, discomfort or pain moves better. A mind and body that knows they have been taken care of are cooperative. Who doesn’t want that? Especially when there is another mile to be run, ridden, swum…another pose to perfect…another routine to nail…another weight to be lifted.
Get to it.