Why Massage is Important for Training and Recovery
So you’ve been training like a crazy person! And your muscles, despite their accomplishments, are angry at you for it. Good for you on building strength and endurance, but now you should reward your muscles for their hard work. How about a massage?
Ok! So you got the massage and the muscles are happy! And that’s when it dawns on you… you’re going to train again, your muscles are going to ache again, and your training/aching muscles will want a massage again. It makes you wonder: would it make that much of a difference if the massages were fewer and far between? Instead of being back on the table in 1-2 weeks, why not wait it out until the next month?
Well, there are plenty of reasons why an active person should opt for the former. There’s much more to massage than repairing sore muscles. Let’s talk about how massage supports both training and recovery!
Massage and Physical Training
I almost feel like I’m writing this article backward. Shouldn’t I be talking about massage aiding recovery first? Aren’t sore muscles the most common reason to seek out a massage in the first place? And isn’t recovery the goal?
Yes, of course, recovery is the goal! But I’m starting with the physical training portion because I want to give some advice: try a massage before you start training, even if your muscles aren’t that achy.
Ever heard of sports massage? It’s not just for after the event when your muscles are tired. Pre-event sports massage is its own modality, and it will get you pumped before you head to the gym. Or the sidewalk, or wherever it is you workout. You can expect a fast-paced massage with a combination of passive and assisted stretching. Those kinds of techniques will wake you up and make your limbs flexible! Now, who doesn’t want to be more awake and flexible before training?
But sports massage isn’t the only style you can do pre-training. (Though, I do recommend you ask for a pre-event sports massage if you plan to train soon after the massage.) Are you more of a deep tissue or Swedish massage person? If so, getting one of those a day or two before training has its benefits too!
Massage loosens and warms your muscle fibers, which makes your body move more efficiently. A loosened and upright body will perform way better than a stiff and slouchy body!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s cliche, but it’s true. Remember when I said massage can improve physical performance? Well, improved performance decreases your chance of injury. Exercising with proper form will keep you from straining your muscles. You’ll have fewer aches to treat at your post-training massage!
Sorry for being redundant, I know I’ve said flexibility a few times already. But this one is really important, as it plays a role in both your performance and injury prevention!
Here comes more repetition! Stretching. I talk about stretching a lot. Most of my blogs bring up stretching, and all post-consultations with my clients address stretching. Did you know that stretching a tight muscle can further tighten the muscle? Always make sure your muscles are warmed and pliable before you stretch. Massage pre-training will do the trick!
Promote Restful Sleep
This is the reason why I recommend a vigorous pre-event sports massage soon before training, and deep tissue or Swedish a day prior. A deep and/or relaxing massage is an excellent way to increase serotonin levels. Did you know that serotonin levels are vital for the production of melatonin? Now you do! So now you can wake up rejuvenated and ready to pump iron!
But wait, there’s more! Did you know that one hour of massage has comparable effects to one hour of sleep? And if you fall asleep during the massage, you’re doubling the benefit. How cool is that?
Massage and Recovery
These days, people are recognizing massage as more of a medical service than a luxury. A commonly known benefit of massage is that it speeds up recovery time. But how exactly does it do that?
Increase Blood Circulation
- When pressure is applied during massage, blood is moved to congested areas. This movement increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered throughout the body. When muscles receive adequate oxygen and nutrients, pain levels decrease.
- By themselves, most forms of exercise do increase blood flow. So give yourself a little extra benefit with a post-training massage!
- I just learned about a thing called Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training. If you enjoy that BFR stuff at the moment but want to increase your circulation afterward, please get a massage!
Improve Lymph Flow
- A lymph is a colorless fluid that removes waste and toxins from the body. Poor lymph circulation is associated with infection, inflammation, and general aches and tightness. Massage pushes lymph towards your lymph nodes, assuming your therapist is moving the glides in the direction of your heart. (Lymph nodes are located in your neck, armpits, and groin.)
- Just like with the blood flow, exercise already promotes healthy lymph flow. However, intense training will likely lead to inflammation and muscle tightness. So it couldn’t hurt to get a little extra lymph flowing with a massage!
- Oh, kind of just talked about this in the previous bullets. Improve lymph flow and blood flow to reduce inflammation! Improve both types of circulation with massage!
- After an intense workout, don’t you sometimes feel you need a reward? But if you get that reward in the form of ice cream, you might feel guilty later for undoing your hard work. How about instead of a fatty sugar bomb reward, you boost your mood with some relaxing bodywork? I’d imagine you’re pretty exhausted after long periods of training, and exhaustion can negatively impact your mood. And a poor mood can increase your cortisol levels, which can contribute to inflammation, poor circulation, and overall discomfort.
- Keeping a healthy mind should be part of your training, too! Emotional stress doesn’t just make your body ache; it impacts your motivation to workout too. Don’t let that happen, you’ve come too far! Heal your mood at your next massage session!
Now You Know!
Stay happy, healthy, and motivated to train!
Author, Licensed Massage Therapist
Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.
Carey, Elea. “How to Perform Lymphatic Drainage Massage.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 27 Feb. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/how-to-perform-lymphatic-drainage-massage.
Galatzer-Levy, Jeanne. “Massage Therapy Improves Circulation, Alleviates Muscle Soreness.” ScienceDaily, University of Illinois at Chicago, 16 Apr. 2014, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140416125434.htm.
Kibler, Kray. “Massage Therapy for a Better Night’s Sleep.” Sleep Review, 16 Mar. 2020, www.sleepreviewmag.com/sleep-health/prevailing-attitudes/massage-therapy-sleep/.
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