Massage can be a beneficial complement to a workout at any time. However, the techniques used may differ depending on the type of sport to which you are involved.
In this post, we will draw comparisons to sporting events. However, they can also apply to gym workout goals, as well. Many people choose cardio such as dance, cycling, and running as their preferred workout (endurance), and some prefer lifting weights and Bootcamp-style workouts (strength/power). We will explore how massage can be beneficial for both workout types.
Massage can be helpful before or after a workout. Massage before a workout has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce post-exercise soreness, warm up the muscles, and enhance performance. Massage after a workout can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness due to soft tissue inflammation.
Whether the massage occurs before/after an athletic event or both depends on many factors. To obtain the best results, the approach is not cookie-cutter and will depend on the chosen sport, as well as individual fitness goals.
Many fitness enthusiasts will clamor to tell you how important a sports massage can be for achieving optimum performance levels. However, much of the evidence is still considered anecdotal and will require additional studies and further data to prove.
Placing the lack of data aside, you can speak to most any athlete and the proof is in the pudding . . . . massage helps!!
Whether you are a cyclist preparing to go the extra mile on your next ride, a runner looking to add some length to your stride, or a weight lifter looking to add more power to your clean and jerk, massage can be tremendously beneficial to most training regimens.
Massage and Muscles Types
Let’s take a moment and talk muscles.
Skeletal muscle is one of the three muscle types in the human body (the other two are cardiac and smooth), and they are the muscles that most people associate with sports. These muscles attach to the bones and help us move our bodies through space. Some examples are the quadriceps and hamstrings that move the legs; the biceps and triceps that move the forearm; and the rectus abdominis and obliques that move the torso.
Skeletal muscles are comprised of three types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch/oxidative (type 1), fast-twitch/oxidative (type 2 A), and fast-twitch/glycolytic (type 2 B).
The body utilizes all three muscle fibers during physical activity; however, some sports rely on one type more than another. For instance, endurance athletes that travel long distances such as marathon runners utilize mostly slow-twitch/oxidative (type 1) muscle fibers. Whereas sports that require short bursts of energy over a short period, such as sprinters and powerlifters, rely predominantly on fast-twitch (type 2) fibers.
The Endurance Athlete
Endurance activities involve movements that require the body to achieve the maximal ability to deliver oxygen to the tissues while sustaining an active pace for a prolonged period. Sports such as long-distance running, cross-country skiing, and tennis are considered endurance sports.
- Maximal Oxygen Consumption (Vo2 Max) – this is the measure of how much oxygen the body can efficiently use at a maximum effort. For optimal endurance performance, a high Vo2 max is essential.
- Lactate Threshold – the maximum steady-state effort that can be maintained without lactate continually increasing. An athlete with a higher lactate threshold will often perform better in endurance sports; because as levels of lactate rise in the bloodstream, speed and endurance will ultimately suffer.
- Economy of Movement (efficiency) – Massage can effectively contribute to this factor the most. The more efficient an athlete moves through space, the better the end result. Regular sports massage techniques that include Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) techniques can help reduce fascial restrictions that can increase optimal movement, as well as help to improve contraction velocity.
Massage and The Endurance Athlete
One of the most common conditions often experienced with endurance athletes is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), the soreness and stiffness associated with long-term strenuous exercise. This condition often appears within 24-72 hours following activity.
Studies show activities that most contribute to DOMS involve long term bouts of an exercise that involve more concentration on the eccentric (lengthening) phase of muscle activity.
Pre-Workout Massage for the Endurance Athlete
The pre-workout/event massage should occur anywhere between 30-minutes, up to 24-hours before an event. If the massage is performed on the day of the event, it is not recommended to exceed 15-minutes in duration, and the therapist should maintain an optimistic and encouraging demeanor to keep the athlete in an elevated mental state.
If the massage is performed closer to an event, it is important that the therapists’ techniques are invigorating, to stimulate blood flow, maintain the athlete’s focus and mental clarity, and help the athlete maintain the focus and energy necessary to achieve peak performance. It is also recommended that the therapist use caution when addressing any injuries or perceived limitations, so as not to hinder the athlete’s confidence during performance.
The pre-workout/event massage will incorporate brisk jostling massage strokes and vibration techniques to “wake up” the muscles, and effleurage gliding techniques to encourage blood flow. The therapist will also use sports massage techniques that are specific to the activity to help lubricate the joints and facilitate range of motion.
If the pre-workout/event massage occurs a day or two before the event, the therapist can address trigger points and perform techniques that reach the deeper muscular layers, as long as the athlete is accustomed to massage and it will not negatively impact performance. If the athlete is new to massage, a more superficial relaxation massage is recommended.
Post-Workout Massage for the Endurance Athlete
A post-workout/event massage can occur anywhere between 30-minutes to 72 hours following an event.
If the massage occurs closer to the event conclusion, it is necessary to assess the athlete for signs of cramping, or symptoms associated with heat/dehydration conditions, as well as gather information regarding the physical condition of the athlete. The post-workout/event massage will consist of gentle techniques such as effleurage to encourage circulation, help flush out metabolic waste, and encourage lymphatic drainage.
If the athlete experiences cramping, the massage therapist will perform techniques to manually relax the muscle by using light compression and gently placing pressure to bring the muscle fibers closer together (the opposite of stretching). Over-stretching a muscle cramp will likely make the situation worse.
Massage techniques within the 24-72 hour window will likely involve deeper massage techniques to reduce the occurrence of Delayed Muscle Onset Soreness (DOMS) and reduce inflammation, as well as techniques to help prevent muscle stiffness and increase range of motion and blood flow.
The Strength/Power Athlete
Unlike the endurance athlete, the strength/power athlete utilizes powerful movements and high-resistance activities to achieve optimum performance, strength gains, and muscular development. This athlete recruits a larger number of type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibers during their chosen sport/activity.
Type 2 fibers are larger; have high force production and fatigue quickly. Therefore, it is necessary to take each athlete’s unique situation into consideration when selecting an individualized massage protocol.
Pre-Workout Massage for the Strength/Power Athlete
As with pre-event sports massage for the endurance athlete, the massage should occur no less than 30-minutes, up to 24-hours before an event. If the massage is performed the day of the event, it is not recommended to exceed 15-minutes in duration, and the therapist should maintain a positive, lively, and encouraging atmosphere to maintain the athlete’s motivation and competitive mindset.
Pre-event/competition massage performed the day of a strength/power event should use gliding strokes (effleurage) sparingly, as they have been known to limit strength when used before the performance. Rather, the therapist should utilize muscle jostling, petrissage, and percussive techniques to warm up the tissue.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation techniques, such as the hold-relax with agonist contraction technique, have been known to enhance muscle awareness and increase performance power.
The book Facilitated Stretching, by Human Kinetics, Inc, explains this process thoroughly, and includes a video demonstrating techniques that can be used in the gym, workout room or at home.
Post-Workout Massage for the Strength/Power Athlete
The post-event sports massage should occur between 30 minutes, up to 72 hours following the event/workout session.
The post-event massage for the strength/power athlete is similar to that of the endurance athlete, and caution should be taken immediately following the event.
Also, techniques such as effleurage, light petrissage (muscle kneeing, skin rolling) techniques may be applied to the athlete to encourage blood flow, remove waste byproducts and encourage protein delivery needed for muscle repair.
Massage can be beneficial to athletes before and/or following a workout/event. More superficial/stimulating techniques should be applied just before an event to assure optimum performance, and an encouraging and energetic atmosphere should be created to maintain the athlete’s competitive mindset.
Following the event, the athlete’s condition should be assessed before the massage. Look for signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion, as well as any other injuries that may have occurred before a massage treatment.
Massage techniques may vary slightly depending on the athlete. Endurance athletes and strength/power athletes utilize different physiology, and treatment protocols must take the specific needs of each athlete/sport into consideration to provide a personalized treatment plan.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
Compliment Your Body LLC has been providing in-home and corporate/event chair massage for New York City since 2004. You are safe in our hands!
Compliment Your Body, LLC
1441 Broadway #6087
New York, NY. 10018