As a massage therapist and ex-personal trainer, I am guilty of assuming everyone else appreciates the benefits of massage. As a ‘fun’ runner, I can still be surprised how great my legs can feel the first time out after a massage. Whilst those athletes with support teams flop on the table on a regular basis, why should a ‘recreational’ runner have massage? What happens? What massage tips for runners are there that might aid performance or even enjoyment?
Same muscles, same stresses
Recreational runners use the same muscles as elite athletes and undergo the same stresses, whether you are donning trainers for the first time since school or using a half marathon as training for an even longer distance. Those tight calves, or a hamstring twinge can quickly turn from irritation into a potential event withdrawal issue.
Of course we all think of our legs when we run, but these aren’t the only areas impacted by running. Our hips and low back work hard to stabilize the pelvis while shoulders can become tense both from the effort of maintaining good form or from poor technique. Importantly, tension in the upper body can reduce breathing efficiency, key to any endurance event.
How massage can help runners
At its most basic level, massage works to increase blood flow within your muscles which in turn helps to promote proper muscle function, thereby preventing new injuries, and helping to heal existing ones. It also encourages muscles and their tendons to function with increased range of motion and flexibility.
A study of a 'real life' scenario, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, saw participants receive three massages a week for 10 weeks on one leg whilst also receiving no treatment on the other leg. The results suggested that massaged legs gained four degrees of flexibility and 13 per cent strength. Now, I'm not sure that one leg massage or three massages per week are realistic, but you get the drift. Other research has included: a study in the Journal of Athletic Training which noted a 30 per cent reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness; a study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found improved recovery; and satisfied run-and-rub testers in the British Journal of Sports Medicine enjoyed decreased fatigue.
So, what can you do?
When you are building your training programme, identify opportunities to book your massages - and book them in advance. Given that anyone training for a distance event will likely build a regime that only allows for a couple of days rest per week, it is vital this happens as efficiently as possible. Massage therapy can help you rest, repair and recover, whether you are booking for a massage therapy appointment or working with one of our sports massage therapists. Your massage appointments could be viewed as an integral part of your training programme, in the same way as your strength work, stretching routine and your nutritional adaptations.
When is best?
In the immediate run up to your event, the work will need to be lighter in pressure, since deep tissue work is in essence another workout for your muscles. You are giving your body something to deal with and recover from, like DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after a heavy sprint session, so consider booking your massage for your rest day or after your workout on the day before your rest day.
Ask for feedback
Any massage therapist worth their salt will be able to provide you with feedback about how they find you and what they notice in your tissues, which can help inform your training programme. Perhaps you are having consistently tight calves, which might suggest you are adding too much hill work or push heavily off from your toes in your running technique. Invite your massage therapist to help you improve your technique. To he honest it doesn't really make a huge amount of difference whether you book in for a massage therapy appointment or to see one of our sports massage therapists, it's seeing a bodywork expert who can advise you about what they find and your body use which is of paramount importance. But if you are wanting to talk running whilst having a massage, consider booking in with our sports massage therapist John, our resident RoadRunner!
Mind over matter
Massage will allow you to check in with how your body actually feels and is working. Once you get into the routine of training, it can be easy not to notice areas of tightness until they are relieved or give in to injury. It is often said that you don’t know how much you need a massage until you have one. Massage also promotes the release of endorphins, the hormones which will act as natural painkillers to reduce some of the muscle soreness and help to keep you calm.
We all know we should do it, and do more of it, but it is rare to ask a client about their stretching and to not hear “not as much as I should / could”. Please don’t over look the simple things such as a good warm up including dynamic (moving) stretches, and a cool down with static stretches to encourage your muscles to retain their length and flexibility. If you are wanting to discuss how to develop your training programme, or considering other forms of training to aid your running technique, our resident (and active) personal trainer Mike might be the sports massage therapist for you.
If your massage practitioner gives you 'homework' or after care, this is not because they feel they ought to, but because they believe that their tips can make a difference to you and your training. The next time you see them, be honest about how you got on. If you haven't done it, explain why not. Could you not remember how it should feel, or have they given you something too time consuming? It might be that this information will help them develop something more memorable or shorter that can fit in with your routine.
If you have done your homework, let them know what if any differences you have noticed in your body, after all you are asking them to help you work out how you can be the best you can be in your body, and if your calf stretches aren't relieving your sore calves, it might be that there is an issue elsewhere they can investigate with you.