The dimly lit room. The faint spicy aroma. The trickle of the water element in the corner. The chanty sounds of gongs and the lowest of low-key world music. Where are we? No, not a yoga studio. Not your hippy high school boyfriend’s pimped out basement crib.
Bingo! It’s time for a massage!
Now you might think massages are for the stressed out or for the pampered privileged set, but massages are so much more than that. In fact, if you’re looking to take your training up a notch, regular massages can be integral to getting in the miles and keeping injury at bay.
In the past, recovery was seriously lacking from my running/training routine, and I learned the hard way that neglecting that part of training was bad news. Before I got with the recovery program, I injured my hamstring not just once, but twice! As a former member of the “no pain, no gain” club – I’ve learned that I must pay attention to recovery JUST as much as I do to my training plan to meet my running goals.
In researching how to properly recover, I came across this book: the Athlete’s Guide to Recovery. In this book, I learned the importance of sports massage and want to share why she says it should be an integral part of your recovery routing. She says massage “gives you time away from training, work, family demands, and technical devices that tether you to training, work, and family” (p. 125). A sports massage routine results in lowered blood pressure, emotional stability, and a sense of holistic well-being. It also has positive effects on circulation, removal of adhesions (or trigger points, cramping, and muscle spasms), and general reduction of pain. Sold!
I started getting sports massages as a part of my hamstring injury rehabilitation process. My hamstring injury, proximal hamstring tendinitis, is actually very common for runners; the pain usually radiates from the base of our buttocks, and (in my case) was so dehabilitating that I had to stop running completely. Stretching wasn’t enough to alleviate the pain, so massage has literally been my savior. I’ve also found that it helps me with my flexibility, especially in my hips and hamstrings, where stretching just isn’t enough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hobbled into my massage therapists office and felt like I was floating as I walked out.
I’m currently scheduled to have a 90 minute massage every two weeks after my long run, and I’ve been getting regular sports massages for over a year and a half now. Over that time, I’ve learned a few things about sports massage and choosing the right therapist:
1. Request a massage therapist that is trained to work on runners. It’s even better if they run too. A runner has VERY different needs then a cyclist and you want to ensure that they are focusing on the right areas (i.e. IT Bands). Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist a ton of questions before letting them work on your body to determine if they are the right therapist for you.
2. Sports massage and deep tissue massage are completely different. A sports massage is often targeted to a specific body part (or region) and goal (i.e. hamstring rehabilitation). If your therapist doesn’t know the difference, it means that they are not specially trained in sports massage, and you want to avoid those therapists if your goal is running recovery. While pain is NOT required for massage to be beneficial, keep in mind that these also aren’t for relaxation either. A good sports massage will sometimes hurt.
3. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist to stop, to move on, or that you want them to change the focus of the massage. Don’t be intimidated by them because they are the professionals. On a related note, if you do not feel comfortable and safe with them, trust yourself and find a different therapist. Massage can be very intimate and you will not reap the full benefits of the massage if you are stressed about the therapist himself.
4. Sports massages are expensive because you are going to a specialized therapist. Take the cost into account; if it isn’t necessary, don’t feel like you have to do it for recovery. I know I need it because I get injured when I try to eliminate them from my recovery routine – but it is not required for all runners. It’s just another tool in the recovery toolbook. When I’m not training, I reduce the number of massages I get to save money.
Sports massage is the key for me to stay healthy, but it’s only one part of my recovery routine. Along with my rest, ice and stretching, it helps me to stay injury-free throughout my marathon training.
Do you incorporate sport massages into your recovery routine?