Maximizing your Massage for Hastened Recovery – Not all Massage is Created Equal

I am frequently asked by athletes “When is the best time for me to get a massage?” The right massage at the correct time interval after training or racing can determine whether you are getting maximum benefit from your massage therapy.  Let’s first define recovery massage in the scope of maximizing the recovery process after a hard race or training effort.

Massage that aids in the recovery process is a lighter massage technique that employs massage strokes that will increase the circulatory response and counteract exercise induced muscle injury (muscle soreness).  This is not “deep tissue” massage or muscle stripping.  Think about your classic swedish massage but with a quicker, lighter action that kneads, shakes and vibrates the muscle.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on athletes that stopped getting massage because the work was too deep soon after a hard race.  They are quite often relieved to get lighter work where they can relax and enjoy the process!  So if your massage therapist is working too deeply on those sore, tired muscles, just request that he or she back off on the pressure.

If you are at an event or race you should have a well thought out process of what happens after you are done racing, whether it be running, cycling or another endurance event.  The first thing that should happen is that you have some type of recovery drink or nutrition available and ready to consume.  If the weather is warm then have it in a cooler on ice if necessary.  You’ll want to duplicate what you do in training and conventional wisdom states that you want to consume this within 30 minutes of finishing your race.

After initial nutrition intake is when you want to find access to massage therapy as soon as possible.  This would be ideal if there is a massage therapist on site at the event.  However, even when this is available there are challenges.  Usually there is a line, which means waiting to get on the table and that doesn’t help you recover faster.  Also, if the massage therapist is insistent on “working out that tight IT band” that isn’t really what you’re looking for either.

Your best bet at a race is to just do it yourself.  Because you want something that stimulates blood flow I’ve always preferred using my own hands versus using a massage prop such as The Stick or something similar.  A massage prop or foam roller utilizes compressive forces and before a race this can work very well for warming up muscle tissue in preparation for hard efforts.  But my goal after a race is to knead the muscle, lift it up, shake it about and get it back to life.  I am always thinking “light and lively” as I work with an athlete in the hours or day after a race.  Of course this is why I developed my video on self-massage so people can help themselves until they are able to see their regular massage therapist.  I’ve posted a short video below and this will give you an idea about the different massage strokes I employ and what you want to achieve.  Even ten minutes of quick work will offer great benefit in the recovery process.

If you are working with a professional massage therapist in your hometown (which I highly recommend) then you want to seek them out the day after the event, or as soon as possible.  If you race on the weekend then Monday is the absolute best day to be getting a massage in order to recover from the intense effort of racing.  Or, if you are in the middle of an intense training block, coordinate your massage for the day after intervals, speed work or any type of training that is more “race like” in nature.  This will help with recovery and adaptation during the “build” phase of your training block.

A recent research article from the University of Illinois at Chicago discusses the science and physiology of receiving massage immediately after exercise and that positive change was measured by ultrasound 90 minutes after exercise.  It is great to see clinical research backing up the fact that massage therapy helps in recovery.  Over the past few years there has been more evidence backing these claims.  I think that professional sports, especially professional cycling provides the most evidence that massage is an essential part of the recovery process.  All professional cycling teams employ massage therapists to work with their riders during races.  Riders receive massage every day during the Tour de France and other major stage races.  How great would life be if we could get a massage every day?  Of course, you have to earn it, which is why only the best athletes in the world earning their living competing usually enjoy this privilege.

And remember that you can be your own massage therapist by learning how to do this yourself!  My Self Massage for Recovery video teaches you how to do it in a quick and easy 20 minute sequence.  The video is 49 minutes long and goes into greater detail about the intricacies of massage and specific deeper techniques for nagging problems such as IT band pain and shin splints.  You can purchase the DVD outright that you can own, get the starter kit which includes Soothing Rain Recovery Cream with a DVD or stream the video directly through Amazon.  This option is great because you can rent it for $1.99 for seven days and see it right on your television.  Regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire a professional making sure you are using the right techniques will make a big difference in how quickly you recover.

Reference:  University of Illinois at Chicago. “Massage therapy improves circulation, alleviates muscle soreness.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2014.

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