Are you an athlete who cringes at the thought of making massages a part of your regular training habits? Here is why seeking massage before your muscles seize should be part of your training plan. 

I definitely cannot say massage therapy is a foreign recovery modality concept to most triathletes, and even the dedicated athletes are scheduled to receive a post-race massage or two. It seems massage is still viewed as a luxury and an indulgence and is used very infrequently especially among athletes. Most will still wait until their muscle has seized up and tendons are tense and tight.

Sure, if you wait until that point, you will have some brief relief from your aches and pains. However, for an athlete at any level, the real benefits arise from frequent massage therapy and from working with a massage therapist that understands sports massage and your body. I believe that if you are serious about your sport and performance, it is essential to integrate massage therapy into your training program. 

Massage therapy can provide multiple benefits for athletes and can speed up recovery after a long day of training, or even a race day. Massage increases blood flow to the muscles to help speed healing by flushing out the metabolic waste also known as lactic acid build up. It can also give you a chance to reconnect your mind and body and decompress. “Active recovery” can be utilized for the time that you do not have a massage scheduled, and it is also a very effective way of flushing that metabolic waste. This would usually entail a lighter effort similar to a 30-minute swim or a 60-minute bike ride at a lower-end of your efforts.

Regular massage can help manage and prevent injuries by bringing awareness to areas of the body that are not responding as efficiently as possible. The therapist can help understand the nature of the injury or dysfunction and can treat the athlete accordingly if it is within scope of practice.

The ideal frequency for massage therapy is twice a week for an elite athlete, or once a week minimum. For a recreational athlete, it would be once a week to once a month based on need or requirement.

One of the key components to success with a therapist is a strong relationship built upon trust and effective communication. It is key to establish a relationship with your massage therapist so he/she not only gets to know your body but also is able to work out with you what type and depth the massage should be for what you need in that appointment or training cycle. Massage should be scheduled, and when you integrate it into your training plan, it will provide huge benefits.

Every athlete is different and what is effective for one may not be for another. In general, for big training weeks, getting a good, deep flush once or twice a month is great, but not so that fatigue is increased in the muscles. Your therapist should be in tune with your body and should have the experience to know how much is beneficial or not. Recovery weeks are a good time for more targeted work. Then, during a competition week, it is all about what works for you as an individual just as with a taper.

Ideally, athletes get a massage the day before either a day off or the day before a light “active recovery” day. This is how to effectively use massage as a key component in a training cycle.  A deep massage the day before a race or will leave the athlete feeling sluggish for that session, and for most it would end up being a tough day of training or racing.

When possible, schedule your pre-race massage early in the race week and then definitely get a post-race massage either right after the race (highly recommended) or the day after with your regular therapist. Throw in an ice bath lasting three to five minutes somewhere shortly after the race, and you will get the type of recovery that most pros use. This combo will have you recovered and ready to start another block of training in no time!

Daily preventive maintenance, would also be recommended, a little self-massage with a foam roller or a massage ball, quad ball, roller stick or pretty much any self-massage torture apparatus you can get your hands on.

The rollers are effective to roll out the quads, IT bands and calves while the smaller balls are perfect for getting into glutes, adductors and soleus muscles. Remember that while a healthy dose of pain is always part of a triathlete’s daily regimen, too much may not always be a good thing.

Staying on top of your recovery with frequent massage is a great way to keep your body in tune and running like the world-class machine that it is! See you at the finish line Cornwall! 

-Shannon Lapointe, RMT