Importance Of Regular Massage
By Alisa Smith - from
OutsideOnlineYour well-tailored fitness program may be missing
something importanta regular massage. Here's our hands-on guide to the
All summer long
you surfed, you hiked, you all-out mountain biked. Soon enough you'll be
thumping through the moguls and skidding on ice. Problem is, relentlessly
redlining your outdoor lifestyle week in and week out takes a toll on the body,
especially when recovery means little more than popping ibuprofen caplets like
they're Flintstones chewables. What's a sore adrenaline junkie to do?
"Every day, have a massage," says Melissa Shockey, a rubdown master at Otter
Bar Lodge, a white-water kayaking school on Northern California's Salmon River.
"The more massage, the better."
Her prescription may require a
chubby wallet and open-ended leisure time, but Shockey has a point. No longer
stigmatized as a frivolous luxury or a therapeutic detour on the woeful road to
rehab, massage is now joining exercise, nutrition, and rest as a crucial
component of a sound fitness plan, particularly for weekend athletes who may
not take optimal care of their bodies. "Amateurs are training as seriously now
as pros did 50 years ago," says Mel Cash, founder of the London School of
Sports Massage. "It's usually aches and pains that make people give up a sport.
But if Joe Runner stays out there with the help of regular massage, he's going
to live to be 80 or 90 years old."
What can massage do for you, besides
help you stay in the game longer? Even the simplest relaxation massages will
decrease stress and improve circulation. More intense sports massages and deep
soft-tissue workcharacterized by pushing hard into the layers of muscle,
tendon, and ligamentwill shorten your recovery time after tough workouts and
races, while keeping joint injuries and other ailments at bay. But don't take
our word for itconsider the evidence.
What the Pros Know
competitive cyclists, speedy muscle recovery can make the difference between
winning a stage racewhich can entail up to 20 races over consecutive daysand
finishing at the back of the pack. Rest between stages is critical, but rest
combined with sports massage can double or triple recovery speed.
Racing and hard training leave behind microtears in muscle fiber, while muscle
metabolism deposits waste in the form of lactic acid and phosphocreatine. As
your body cools, these metabolic by-products solidify, creating adhesions
between muscle fibers that inhibit those fibers from contracting smoothly
against one another. Massage does two things: It physically breaks down the
adhesions and waste productsimagine rolling a clump of dirt between your
fingers until it disintegratesmaking it easier for the body to flush out waste
and restore your full range of motion. And it stimulates blood circulation,
speeding up repair work by delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles, tendons,
Of course, bike racers aren't the only people who stand
to benefit from deep massage. "For recreational athletes who hit it hard on
weekends and who may go three or four days without activity, exercise is even
more stressful on the body than for those who work out regularly," says Bob
McAtee, a Colorado Springs massage therapist who teaches sports-massage
seminars around the country. For working-class funhogs, massage may be more
about injury prevention than performance enhancement, but the two go hand in
hand. Unless you apply due diligence every time you bike, run, or
climbstretching before and after, warming up slowly and adequately, drinking
plenty of wateryou're risking strains, pulls, and tears. And you're begging for
more serious problems down the road, such as tendinitis and chronic
Massage shouldn't replace stretching, but since it moves muscle
fibers in many more directions than a person can stretch, it can increase your
range of motion dramatically. Wes Hobson, a top American triathlete based in
Boulder, Colorado, adheres religiously to a regular hour-and-45-minute
intensive rubdown to keep himself limber. "I'm not the most flexible person,
and I hate to stretch," says Hobson. "Massage really helps me out."
How Much Is Enough?
For mortal athletes, McAtee suggests gauging how
often you should get a massage by the number of training miles you log. For
runners, consider a massage session every 70 miles. "If you're a recreational
runner who jogs two or three times a week for short distances, that may mean
one massage a month," he says. "If you're training for a marathon, you're
probably looking at a massage every week." Cyclists should slot a visit every
300 miles. Since a professional massage runs between $50 and $90 per hour,
weekly sessions may require some budgeting. Of course, there is also the
low-budget, do-it-yourself option.
Once you've committed to time on the
table, determining your pain threshold is critical. While therapists vary on
their opinion about how much you should hurt during and after your session, the
purpose of sports massage is to penetrate far into muscle tissue, and sometimes
that work can be painful.
"In general, the more pain you can tolerate,
the deeper the massage, and the more you'll see lasting benefits," says Mark
Tamoglia, a massage therapist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who works with athletes
of widely varying age and ability. "With a deep massage, you may feel good the
day after, but the next day you'll feel even better." Your comfort zone may
depend on how seriously you take your sportand your recovery. Any qualified
therapist can help you zero in on the right intensity level.(To find a massage
therapist near you, contact the American Massage Therapy Association,
888-843-2682 or www.amta
In the end, sports massage
is about feeling better, not hurting more. A little extra suffering at the
hands of your massage therapist pays off in the form of enhanced relaxation
afterward, which may be more important than you realize. The body reacts to
non-sports-related stressflack from your boss, for instanceby contracting
muscles and restricting blood flow to certain parts of your body. Worse, this
tension carries into your extracurricular activities, leading to bigger
problems. "People bring stress into whatever they do," says Shockey. "A lot of
tension in sports is emotional tension, and anywhere there's tension there's
potential for injury."
Moreover, some evidence shows that relaxation is
a conditioned response. Massage takes the body through the relaxation process
and makes it easier to coax yourself into a mellow state when you're feeling
stressed, say, at the start of your first half-Ironman or pulling through the
crux of a lead climb. "Over time," says McAtee, "the relaxation you learn on
the massage table can be tapped on the line."
Whether you're budgeting
for a professional massage therapist or plying your squeeze with red wine in
hopes of convincing him or her to take on the role, consider sports massage the
most pleasurable fitness prescription you're ever going to get. Forget gulping
down painkillersthis is medicine you'll take with glee.