Recovery is the most underrated part of training.
You can have the best training program in the world and the most amazing athletic technique, but if you’re not recovering properly you won’t make any progress.
You simply must give the body a break to recover from the hard work you’ve done. That break is what helps you leap forward. How important is recovery? Controlling the variables of recovery—nutrition, hydration and sleep are the most important—can change your body composition even if you don’t burn a single calorie exercising.
One way to speed and aid recovery is massage. But not all massages are the same. Different types of massage have radically different effects. A vigorous sports massage is completely different from a relaxing rub-down.
Chances are good that if you’re reading this website, you’re looking for a sports massage. It’s great for improving your health and wellbeing—it addresses common problems like muscle tightness and joint positioning in a calm, health-promoting way.
But that isn’t to say it’s comfortable: it’s actually a process that can feel fairly brutal if you’re looking for the best results. Your muscle tightness might be addressed by a masseuse who drives an elbow into your pec while manipulating your shoulder. It’s effective, but it’s not always relaxing.
There are three key benefits you can get from sports massage:
- Effleurage: This is the removal of waste products from your muscles, which improves blood-flow and reduces soreness. It’s a great short-term option that involves the muscles being ‘ironed’ by the therapist. It feels great…once it’s done.
- Reduced muscle tightness via trigger point therapy: Trigger point therapy is a great way to get the same benefits as a foam roller, but it’s more intense. Again: it’ll feel good when it’s over.
- Improved muscular control and strength: This is very specific to partner stretching, a technique in which the massage therapist stretches your limbs while you provide resistance. It can produce rapid gains in muscular pliability and improve your strength and control over that muscle.
The sports massage is all about performance. You’ll experience some serious rest and recovery benefits. You might want to take the rest of the day off of training after a sports massage, as it can be quite intense and leave your feeling worked and sore.
Therapeutic massage is what most people think of when they think of massage: the kind that doesn’t involve getting prodded and pressured, the kind you get at as part of a spa treatment. It’s not as effective a recovery tool as a sports massage, but the goal is totally different: to help you relax and experience active recovery. It will keep blood-flow consistent and may improve recovery. However, the main point is that you’re relaxing—a key part of recovery.
Training is a type of stress, which can combine with other types of lifestyle stress. If there’s too much cumulative stress on your mind and body, you’re going to experience reduced performance—and recovery. Therapeutic massage can be a great way of reducing your overall stress level and improve the physical processes that manage recovery.
There’s one thing, though. Massage can be expensive.
If you’re not on a professional athlete or a member of an elite sports team, chances are you don’t have ready access to a massage therapist unless you’re willing to shell out at the rate of a buck a minute. And for real impact, you need a couple of massages a week.
So what’s the solution for the rest of us?
Foam rolling is a great alternative to sports massage. It removes waste products and combats trigger point tightness without the expense of a therapist. It might take a little more effort, but you can probably make 20 minutes most days, and consistency always beats intensity.
Try it at home as part of the Myx approach to fitness and wellbeing. You can relax into these movements and focus on breathing, combining some of the benefits of relaxation with trigger point therapy.