Coaches and professional athletes have long recognized the benefits of massage for better performance and speedier recovery from events. Massage has even helped some athletes prevent injuries. As a result, many gyms and training facilities keep a licensed therapist on staff full-time. However, you don't need to belong to an organization like this to obtain these benefits.
How Does Massage Work?
Massage improves circulation by dilating blood vessels. This, combined with the therapist's specific techniques, encourages blood flow back to the heart delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients. As a result, the heart rate lowers more quickly. Especially when combined with stretching, massage can also enhance the flexibility and range of motion for the athlete which can result in better performance in some events.
After an event, the relaxation of muscles along with the improved circulation reduces soreness and muscle tension making for faster recovery. In addition, the massage can often instantly improve range of motion and flexibility.
What Type of Massage Works Best?
Athletes don't usually see benefits from the relaxing 'spa-like' massage. According to AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association), they benefit best from a sports massage which typically involves faster paced movement and will generally include stretching.
The massage developed to support pre-workout or an event will need to be quite different from a massage designed for post-workout. A post-workout session will depend on the level of strain or to the body. It my be more focused on relaxing the muscles and improving flexibility, or require trigger point to relieve muscle knots or tension.
Sometimes, a deep tissue massage may be necessary for working on muscles layered more deeply within the body. This type of massage is usually combined with trigger-point and may not be at all comfortable to experience... even producing soreness the next day.
When should Massage be Scheduled
Massage - like exercise - won't accomplish these type of results if not experienced on a regular basis. Results are cumulative so the more you receive the massage, the more you'll experience results.
The massage may leave you sore, just like exercise can, so schedule any massage in advance of an event several days ahead. Likewise - particularly if deeper muscles have been aggravated due to the event - the massage post-workout is best scheduled several days later. However, a lighter relaxing massage can take place immediately following an event.
In short, massage can be an important ingredient to any athletes successful and healthy participation in the sports they love.