What to Wear to a Sports Massage: A Simple Guide
Is this your first sports massage and don’t know what to wear? It’s always a topic to discuss when it comes to massages, whether it be for an ordinary massage or a sports massage. Do you wear your yoga clothes, do you wear loose clothing, or do you wear nothing and slip into a robe? Do the same rules apply for all sports massages?
So, what do you wear to a sports massage? Your attire to a sports massage will depend on several factors.
- What kind of sports massage will you receive?
- What kind of event/sport/injury are you going to be targeting?
- Which body part will your masseuse or massage therapist be targeting?
The simple answer is, it depends. Thankfully, we’ve got the full answer for you in this article! Read along to find out what a sports massage really is so you can determine what the smartest attire will be for your first massage.
What to Wear to a Sports Massage?
Sorry to be a broken record, but your attire will depend on many factors of the massage.
To start, what you wear to a sports massage will depend on the type of sports massage you are going to receive. Depending on your condition, selection of sport, or type of sports massage, the preferred type of clothing will differ.
A simple guide for how to determine what to wear to a sports massage:
- First, determine what kind of sports massage you will be receiving – pre-event, post-event, maintenance
- Second, what kind of sport, event, or injury will you be targeting during this massage session? Even though you may practice the same sport, depending on the injury or goal for the session, your massage may be different.
- Overall, which muscle groups or body parts will be targeted? Like number 2, this can vary even if you are receiving therapy for the same sport, event, and even an injury.
Sports massages can occur in a variety of settings – at a sporting event, on the practice field, in the gymnasium, and sometimes in a private massage studio. Each massage setting has different privacy dynamics, so how you dress will depend on the setting.
If in a public area, sports massage will require a specific wardrobe to be worn for the appointments, so the session purpose is met. What you will wear to a sports massage in a public setting differs from a typical deep tissue massage because, in the sports setting, you will keep your clothes on for the most part. However, for deep tissue massages, you typically can wear anything you want to the appointment because you will be asked to remove your clothes and cover up with a sheet.
Most sports massage therapists will use several movement-based techniques while working on injuries and restoring range of motion. You will want to wear some loose-fitting shorts and a teeshirt/sports bra to your session.
When preparing for your sports massage, the most ideal clothing is anything that is loose fitting and will not obstruct the therapist from getting to the problem areas and the surrounding muscle groups. This can be any number of clothing items, but keep in mind that just because clothing is comfortable does not mean it will work for a sports massage session.
For example, yoga pants are incredibly comfortable and stretchy, but they are not ideal for a sports massage. The therapist would not be able to effectively get to the muscle groups with the material of the pants in the way. With this in mind, here are some general suggestions for what to wear.
- Loose-fitting athletic shorts– If you have a hamstring or glute injury, this will be especially important, since tight clothing will restrict how freely the therapist can work with the muscles. Think high school gym shorts or 80’s style running shorts. Any shorts that allow access to the muscle groups beneath the fabric.
- Loose-fitting athletic pants– If you aren’t a fan of shorts and prefer to wear pants, make sure they are athletic pants and very loose, especially for any injury on your legs. Tight-fitting shorts or pants can restrict access to the area that needs to be addressed, thus making your appointment less productive if you need your legs worked on. With loose-fitting pants, the therapist will be able to push the material out of the way to effectively address the muscles.
- Loose-fitting tank tops or shirts– For any injury to the upper body, such as shoulder or back injuries, you will want to make sure your shirts allow the massage therapist to work with the area freely. It is ideal not to have a top on at all. This is quite easy for male clients but another story entirely for women. If you are a woman and are comfortable with having no top on and having the therapist drape the area with a towel, that is the best scenario. However, a sports bra will usually work just fine.
- Also, make sure any undergarments you wear are loose fitting as well.
Some massage therapists would prefer if you didn’t wear anything, similar to the deep tissue massages, but it isn’t required. As long as they have access to the areas of focus and the surrounding muscle groups, it will be fine.
What Not to Wear
If you plan to keep your clothes on, then some very specific clothing items should not be worn if you want a productive massage. Certain articles of clothing will keep the therapist from doing their job adequately, thus making the massage less effective. If you follow these clothing suggestions you will get the most out of the session.
- Leggings– Do not wear leggings to the massage, these are comfortable for you, but the massage therapist cannot give you the muscle healing massage you need to recover from your injury. That being said, if you do not have a leg, hip, or glute injury, then leggings may be fine. However, be sure to consult your therapist prior to your appointment in order to receive the best possible treatment. You may not have plans for your legs or glutes to be worked on; However, the session may reveal some referral patterns that may require additional focus to these areas.
- Denim– We all love a good, perfectly fitting pair of jeans. The kind that fits like a glove and makes us look amazing. However, the place to wear these is not on a sports massage table. Wearing your favorite jeans to a therapy session would impede the success of the appointment. The only exception would be if you plan to remove them before the massage therapy session.
- Bike shorts– These fall under the same category as leggings, with the same exceptions. If you have a calf or ankle injury, then wearing bike shorts won’t be a problem, but if you have a hamstring or glute injury, then leave the bike shorts at home. The only exception might be if you plan to take your clothes off and cover up with a sheet, thus removing the boundary to an effective session.
- Tight-fitting spandex shirts– This is true, especially for any kind of upper-body injury. Therapists don’t just need access to the injury or problem area. They also need access to the surrounding area. So make sure they will be able to do that. Unless, of course, as I said above, you plan to remove your clothing and cover up with the provided sheet.
- Tight undergarments– If you don’t want to get completely undressed but don’t want to wear your top layer of clothing, then you can keep your undergarments on. However, if you choose to do this, make sure you are wearing loose underwear.
Should Makeup be Worn to a Sports Massage?
For female athletes that will be attending a sports massage, this may be an important question to ask when planning the visit. Many women wake in the morning, and makeup is one of the first things they put on. However, when you are preparing for your sports massage, try to avoid wearing excess makeup.
If you are working before your session or doing something else that requires you to have your makeup on, please pack makeup removing wipes so the makeup can be taken off before the massage. Likewise, if you have places to be after the massage and want to look your best, pack your makeup bag and apply after the session is completed.
These tips will make the session more enjoyable for you since you won’t be worrying about your making rubbing off or running. The least relaxing thing for a woman is to be concerned about what their makeup will look like after a massage session.
Why Shouldn’t Makeup be Worn?
There will be work on your back in almost any massage. This requires that your face be placed in the cradle of the massage table. The first reason not to wear it is that it will be messed up anyway while your face is in the cradle. Also, makeup can stain the material on the face cradle, and this is not an ideal situation for you, or your massage therapist.
Staining the cradle not only shortens the life of the massage table, but it makes it appear dirty and unsanitized for future clients. Other clients will be hesitant to place their faces in the cradle, even though they are cleaned and sanitized after every session. This could cause bad reviews or prevent clients from coming back because of perceived uncleanliness. You will have to reapply your make up anyway, so just don’t wear it to the session.
There are also certain massage techniques that work on the facial muscles. The therapist likely does not want to get your makeup all over their hands or clothing, and removing it beforehand instead of being asked to remove it, will save time during the session.
How Should Hair be Worn?
If you have hair that is below your chin, then you may have questions about how it should be worn during a massage. This isn’t a question only for women, because plenty of male athletes have long hair that would get in the way during a session. If you happen to have shorter hair, it is still a good idea to wear a headband (similar to what you use when you wash your face) to keep the hair out of the way.
But for those of the population that have medium to long hairstyles, it is advised to have your hair pulled back and up off of your shoulders/neck area. This keeps the hair out of the way, from being pulled on accident, and also free of oils and lotions that will be used during the massage.
Some clients think that it is more relaxing to keep their hair down, but it is not helpful to the therapist. Most sports therapists would likely work around it professionally if you insisted on having your hair down, but it isn’t ideal. So, try to have a hair tie with you when you arrive at your massage therapy session.
Can Jewelry Stay On?
Wearing jewelry to a sports massage is not the end of the world, but it will interfere with the massage. For some sessions, you may have your hands, wrists, and arms massaged to increase circulation and mobility while reducing pain. If you have big rings and bracelets on, they make this difficult to accomplish.
This is the same with ankle bracelets, necklaces, and big dangling earrings. These items can get in the way of the massage, and in the case of earrings, if they get caught on the therapist’s clothing, they could cause an injury to your ear.
To be on the safe side, leave your jewelry at home or in your bag during your session. This will make sure that the session is productive, and no one is injured. Typically, you are going for a sports massage to either heal from injury or prevent it, so being injured during the session is counterproductive.
Small rings, such as wedding bands, or very small stud earrings will be fine to wear and will likely not get in the way. If your therapist asks you to remove them for certain treatments, make sure you have a safe place for them in your bag.
What Are the Best Shoes to Wear?
Thinking about shoes when scheduling a sports massage may seem odd or unnecessary, but in reality, shoe choice is important. I imagine that smelly, sweaty feet are not fun or sanitary to work on, and if you are new to the world of massage, this wouldn’t cross your mind. When getting ready to go to your session, make sure that if you have been active that day, you at least wipe your feet down.
Once you have done this, it is time to put your shoes on. It is advised to wear shoes that are easy to get on and off; otherwise, you will be using some of your session time removing shoes. If it is winter or wet weather, slip-on type boots or clogs would be good. However, if the weather is cooperative, flip flops or slide on sandals are the absolute best.
If you have to go somewhere after your session that will require footwear other than sandals or slip-on shoes, then back those in your bag to change into. You will probably be bringing a change of clothes anyway, so it won’t take much extra time.
I would also suggest leaving your socks at home. They can get in the way of the massage if your feet are being worked on. If you insist on wearing socks to the appointment, just know that you may be asked to remove them if you want an effective foot massage.
What Body Parts Are Being Targeted?
From your three answers, you will most likely divide into a general Upper Body or Lower Body session.
For massages targeting the shoulder or mobility of your joints
- Men – If in a private setting, you may remove your top completely. Otherwise, a tee-shirt or tank top will be sufficient.
- Women – If you are comfortable with taking your shirt off, this will be very helpful for the massage therapist. If it is uncomfortable for you, please wear a sports bra which allows access to the muscle groups around the shoulder blades
For massages targeting the lower back
- Men and Women – Wear a loose-fit shirt or remove top, depending on environment/comfort level
In both cases, a loose-fit shirt that can be lifted will suffice. The shirt should be loose enough for you to be comfortable with enough shape to allow the massage therapist to easily see and feel your muscles. This will be sufficient for the therapist to be able to target the massage techniques on the lower back. Make sure it is easy for the massage therapists to access these muscle groups comfortably and efficiently.
- Men and Women – Although tight workout or yoga pants are flexible and comfy, it is highly recommended to wear clothing that can easily be moved out of the way. It is beneficial to both client and massage therapist to be able to have full access to your muscles (upper leg hamstring or lower leg calves). Removing pants is ideal for the therapist to have unhindered access to all muscle groups, if performed in a private setting.
One recommendation is wearing a loose-fitting pair of shorts. Try to avoid tighter shorts as they can restrict targeting the muscles closer to your glutes.
What Is a Sports Massage?
First and foremost, to decide which massage you will be receiving, consider the different types of sports massages that are offered. It’s nice to understand what a sports massage is so you can determine the best clothing selection to benefit your massage therapist and yourself.
Sports Massage 101
Like its name might hint, a sports massage is most beneficial for athletes who play sports. Sports massage can help with injury prevention, fatigue or soreness; facilitate an optimal range of motion; stimulate performance energy, or promote relaxation; and overall, increase optimal athletic performance.
Even though it is beneficial to athletes, keep in mind that simply navigating life is an endurance sport. So, a quality sports massage it is an open option for anyone seeking relief! A sports massage can pump your performance and increase stamina whether you are a professional athlete, weekend warrior, or a desk jockey!
A sports massages can benefit anyone, which means that it can be further distinguished into categories. One category division would be between the goals of the massage for the day.
The massage session will mainly target your muscles that may be stiff from your everyday work and routine, or sore from ongoing sports injuries (piriformis syndrome, runner’s knee, tennis/golfers elbow, plantar fasciitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
People who suffer chronic pain or have restricted physiological capabilities may find sports massages to be beneficial for targeted regions of the body. These are things that you should inform your massage therapist before your sports massage session to ensure optimal utilization of time during your treatment!
Types of Sports Massages
In general, there are three different (main) types of sports massages. There are arguably subcategories of sports massage, but let’s simplify it to these three forms.
- Pre-event Sports Massage: Performed 30-minutes to 24-hours before an event (competition, game, training, etc.)
- Post-event Sports Massage: Massage occurring within 72-hours following an event.
- Maintenance: (includes subcategories such as in-season, off-season, and rehabilitation sports massages).
Pre-event Sports Massage
Pre-event sports massages are given prior to an event. Usually geared towards athletes that have a game (or an “event”) in the near future. During a pre-event sports massage, the body parts that will be most involved in the event will be targeted, and lighter more stimulating techniques will be used to enhance sports performance. This will vary for each sport.
A pre-event sports massage is geared towards energizing and balancing the athlete’s nervous system. It is often paired with a warm-up and targeted for preparing the body and mind for optimum performance.
Pre-event sports massages are generally lighter to prevent soreness on the day of the event.
A post-event sports massage is given within 72- hours following an event (this can be a competition, training, game, etc.).
This massage is geared towards circulation and normalizing the body tissue and condition. The massage should relax the muscles, the nervous system, and help remove waste buildup from the exercise.
Athletes claim that post-event sports massage helps the body to facilitate waste product removal and further prevent muscle soreness and reduces overall recovery time.
Maintenance sports massage is designed to keep the body in tip-top shape between events. In the long term, this type of “maintenance” helps to improve overall performance during training, and maintain a healthy body between events/training sessions. As with any massage, a variety of techniques can be utilized depending on the objectives of the session.
There are two major subcategories with maintenance massage: training sports massage and rehabilitative sports massage.
- Training sports massage is targeted for sessions in between training sessions. This is provided to enhance recovery time if you have any injuries from your training or previous events, and to help increase the overall agility of the muscles to prevent future injuries and to remain at the optimum range of motion.
These sessions are also used to help address any previous injuries, inflammation, or tension, and may require several sessions to have ultimate and long-lasting results.
- Rehabilitative sports massage is also between events but mainly targeted for athletes that are injured from their sport. This session can help to rejuvenate the muscles, reduce inflammation, address scar tissue, or fascial adhesions within the muscles and help to alleviate pain.
This massage session aims to reduce inflammation and scar tissue. In return, a good routine of rehabilitative sports massage can return an athlete to their optimal game-day performance.
With this type of massage, the main objectives are the following: getting muscles and tendons back to desired flexibility and strength while preparing the athlete to prevent future injury. The main purpose is to facilitate an efficient recovery and help assess and address future musculoskeletal imbalances that can lead to injury.
Types of Techniques in Sports Massages
As we briefly mentioned in the previous section, metabolic by-products are commonly built up in athletes, especially after intense physical activity. Lactic acid is known to be associated with fatigue and muscle soreness. With rigorous physical activity, tensing the muscles result in ischemic reactions.
To help the body effectively and efficiently remove these toxic buildups and help facilitate efficient blood flow, massage therapists use a combination of modalities and techniques to provide effective treatment.
For example, the main type of massage could range from a Swedish massage, which helps to release tension and promote relaxation, to a deeper myofascial massage which focuses on the deeper layers of the muscles and fascia.
The depth of the massage will mostly depend on the type of massage an individual requires. For example, in an injury/rehabilitation massage, light massages are used to promote blood flow during the early acute phase, while deeper techniques are utilized further along the recovery process.
The most common massage techniques are defined below:
|Effleurage||Light strokes with the palm of the hands. Helps to enhance blood flow by directing it towards the heart.|
|Petrissage||Kneading movements to promote muscle release and regain energy. Often used to help recovery.|
|Tapotement||Often used in pre-event massages, tapotement uses hacking and cupping mechanisms to stimulate the muscles.
Hacking and cupping create suction with the hand and stimulates the skin and muscle.
|Friction||Techniques used to target the deep muscle tissues. Friction movements are used to penetrate deeper into the tissue. It is ideal for healing injuries and muscle release. Friction is often paired with Effleurage to warm up the muscles.|
|Vibration||Vibration is used to relax and soothe the muscles.|
|Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation||Stretching to improve agility and flexibility.|
Which Body Part Will Your Sports Massage Target?
Sports massages help with performance and flexibility and also increase the range of motion around joints. It can be very beneficial to the athletes that need optimal range of motion to succeed at their chosen sport (for example, baseball players and dancers)!
If you are in a sport that depends heavily on the agility and strength of your upper body, you will most likely expect an upper-body focus during your session. However, it must be noted that fascia moves in specific lines throughout the body. A massage to the plantar fascia of the foot can have tremendous results with back limitations.
Sports that focus on strength and speed of the lower body will most likely involve a focus on the following muscles:
- Knee (muscles and tendons around the knee)
These are common sports with their most associated engagements, whether it is upper body, lower body, or both! Some common sports that engage a lot of jumping, muscle strength, lower body speed, and flexibility are listed below:
Targeted body part/Massages
|Requires muscular strength, speed, endurance, and agility of the low body.||Lower body massage|
|Requires speed, balance, strength, agility and stamina||Both upper and lower body targeted|
|Requires muscular strength, agility, flexibility, and coordination||Both upper and lower body targeted|
|Strength, balance, agility, and coordination||Both upper and lower body|
|Strength, endurance, balance, agility, and coordination||Both upper and lower body|
|Strength, balance, and endurance||Core, upper and lower body|
|Muscular strength, movement, and agility||Upper and lower body|
|Relaxed muscles, strength, agility||Both upper and lower body; benefits from light massage in pre-event sports massages.|
A Word About Human Anatomy
A quick word about human anatomy: All your muscles and tissues throughout your body are connected! This is an important idea to keep in mind. Just because your neck is aching or needs attention does not mean that your shoulder blades should be ignored or even your back!
Your body is a connected mesh of fascia, and it will interact with each other in unique ways. Your massage therapist will be able to see and feel these connections and address each specific region accordingly.
The best thing you can do to assure the best sports massage experience is to make sure you provide your massage therapist with optimum visibility and accessibility to your muscles, especially when dealing with injuries.
Combining the Three Elements
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about the various types of sports massage (Pre-event, post-event, or maintenance), combined with the knowledge of which part of the body will likely be addressed. This should give you a general idea of the type of massage you will be receiving, as well as an idea of what to wear.
Overall, you will want to wear clothes that are loose-fitting. As for the main target areas, it is best to keep in mind that more exposure to those muscles will increase your benefit. If a massage therapist can clearly see the muscles and your physique, it will result in a more thorough session.
A few things to keep in mind when you pick out your clothes:
- Wear easily removable clothing.
- Can be easily moved around during treatment (pulling it out of the way or pulling it up).
- Muscles should be easily observed and exposed for the best treatment experience.
- Thin and loose-fitted clothes are preferred.
How to Prepare for a Sports Massage
Now that you’ve picked out your clothes for the massage, there are a few more things you need to consider preparing for an effective sports massage.
Especially if you are receiving a deep tissue massage, you will want to drink adequate amounts of water before and after. This is an essential recommendation for any type of massage.
With inadequate hydration, you may experience fatigue or even feel slightly nauseated after a massage.
- Find the right therapist
Feel comfortable to be picky and make sure you find the right massage therapist. Call and ask for certificates and licenses. This is to enhance your performance and health so you should take the extra steps to find the best massage therapist to suit your needs.
Depending on your preference and level of comfort, you may also prefer a specific gender of therapist.
It just might take a few months before you settle with the best massage therapist for you, but also keep in mind that the benefits of massage therapy can take a couple of weeks to a few months to show effect.
It’s also a good idea to schedule your massage at a time in the day that’s good for you. If your goal is relaxation, you may want to book your massage after work so you can continue relaxing and unwinding at the end of the day rolling into an evening.
- Check your body and prepare an overview of your health information
Your muscles have deep memory, and again, all of the muscles are connected. Any type of previous injuries, surgeries, and even allergies or discomfort to an aromatherapy scent will be helpful for your massage therapist. To best benefit from your session, prepare this list in advance so you can provide a full health background to your massage therapist.
- Take a warm shower
Before your massage session, take a warm and relaxing shower. The warm water will help to loosen up your muscles and guide you into a relaxed state. Plus, a fresh and clean body will also make the experience much more enjoyable for you and your massage therapist.
- Wear comfortable and loose clothes.
Last but not least, pick comfortable clothing to your appointment that will help you feel relaxed and make the process easier for you and the therapist.
So, there you have it. I hope this gave you some insight into the world of sports massage and what to wear. Massage can be a tremendous asset to a healthy lifestyle, so I encourage you to incorporate it into your active routine.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
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