Chafing, blisters and blackened toenails — training for a big run can be punishing on the body.
Day in, day out, you push your body to its limit as you strive to run that bit further and that bit faster. But effective training isn’t all about pain and gain. Did you know that regular massages have a whole host of benefits for runners?
Many elite runners use massage as part of their training program and swear by its efficacy. And they’re not wrong. Massages help prevent injury and loss of mobility, restore sore muscles, boost performance and help you to keep a clear head — perfect for mindful running!
So whether you’re trying to reach a new personal best or just want to be able to push that little bit harder for longer, read on to find out how massage could be the secret to your running success.
Massages to Fight Peg-Leg
What’s the number one reason runners should invest in regular massages? Recovery. After a big run, you may end up feeling peg-legged. You know, when you can’t seem to bend your legs and every hobbled movement is painful and awkward. That feeling is the result of adhesions and scarring between your muscles and fascia (the sheath that surrounds your muscles). When you run, you put your body under a lot of stress, which releases toxins into your muscle tissue. The result? That all too familiar joint stiffness and soreness. This is where massages can help.
By stimulating your circulation and blood flow, massages expedite the healing response in your tissues. The careful application of pressure and kneading in a massage helps to remove pressure from your muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia by softening the tissues and making them more supple and flexible. And, just like that, massage removes some of those adhesions and limbers up your joints so that you can get back out there quicker. Not only will a massage reduce inflammation and stiffness, but it will also trigger your immune system to function at an optimal level. This prevents you from experiencing dreaded flu-like symptoms after a big run.
Massages to Improve Training
Massages don’t just revive your sore muscles. They also help to rebalance the musculoskeletal system, supporting your training and allowing you to go harder, better, faster and stronger. As a runner, you may experience pain or tightness in your knees, hamstrings and IT band. Your body works on a weight and pulley system — as one muscle becomes fatigued from overuse, another takes over to try and restore the balance. The problem? The second muscle is often not capable of supporting the strain, causing a domino effect that trickles through your musculoskeletal system and leaves you unable to run at your best.
The stroking movements of a massage help to stretch the bundles of muscle fibres sideways and longitudinally in a way that simple stretching just can’t do. This releases the built-up tension and pressure and softens your hard and inelastic tissues, restoring balance to your body. Not only that, but because massages help to increase the blood flow to your tissues and dilate your blood vessels, all those vital nutrients you’re eating are able to pass more easily through your body to your damaged tissues.
Massages and Performance Boosting
We don’t often talk about stress and anxiety as factors that inhibit our running performance. Relaxation and mental balance are often overlooked as physical ability takes centre stage. But your ability to go that extra mile or beat your record is as much mental as it is physical. Massage doesn’t just have a physical effect — it invigorates your mind by reducing stress and anxiety. This provides a relaxing effect that re-energizes you, perfect for that next big race or intense session. So next time you’re preparing for the big one, take the time to get your mind, as well as your body, prepped.
The Best Massages for Runners
Are all massages made equal when it comes to improving your running? While all massages benefit the body and can improve your performance, if you’re serious about incorporating massage into your training routine, here are three of the best:
Deep Tissue Massage
A deep tissue massage is best to get between periods of intense training. Targeting both the deep and superficial layers of your muscles and fascia, this massage focuses on the entire muscle, rather than specific areas of tension. Because it works your whole body, you’ll be in tip-top condition throughout all those hard sessions.
Active Release Technique (A.R.T.)
If you’re suffering from an injury, A.R.T is the best massage for you. Hamstring injuries and plantar fasciitis are common consequences of running. Combining movement with targeted deep pressure to relieve muscle adhesion and scar tissue buildup, A.R.T has grown in popularity in recent years. An A.R.T therapist will evaluate the texture, mobility and tightness of your tissues to determine where any adhesions have formed. Once identified, your therapist will break these up using trigger point pressure and movement.
If you’re preparing for a big race, a Swedish massage might be exactly what you need. The soft-pressure of a Swedish massage won’t get deep into your muscles, so it won’t help with scar tissue, but it’s unique ability to relax and revive your body will help you mentally and physically prepare for your big race or intense session. Utilizing long, flowing strokes of alternating pressure, a Swedish massage will release muscle tension, increase blood flow and lower your stress levels, freeing you of anxiety that can impede your performance.
The Best Time to Get a Massage for Runners
Is there a right time to get a massage? The only rule you need to remember is to never get a massage right before or right after a big race or intense workout. Why? Because a massage is a workout in itself. The deep pressure releases waste products at a cellular level and stimulates your muscles in a way that can leave them feeling sore, just like a workout. Getting a massage too close to or just after a big run can actually be counterproductive and lead to further damage to your muscles and tissues.
Other than adhering to that one rule, you can get a massage as often as you like! As with your training, to really reap the benefits of massage, consistency is key. Weekly trips to your massage therapist may be unrealistic, especially if you need to travel, and can be costly. Instead, why not try a home treatment? Massage chairs and foam rollers are economical and bring professional-grade massage therapy into your home, meaning you can experience the benefits of massage at your own convenience.
A massage isn’t just a luxurious treat for when you deserve a pampering session — it can transform your training program and ultimately improve your running performance.
Author bio: Anthony R. Izzo is the Vice President of truMedic, a personal health and wellness business that sells the highest quality home massage and pain relief equipment at affordable prices.