Ever show up to a race to find a bunch of massage therapists, tables out, ready to work, and no racers to work on?
Before the Race Pre-race massage is often regarded by athletes as either superfluous, unnecessary, or at the very least with a heavy dose of skepticism. How could this possibly make my race any better –now, right before we start? While pre-race massage has many benefits, there are certainly things it should not be. The goal is NOT to use deep techniques. The goal is NOT to increase flexibility. The goal is NOT to correct any issues that have been noticed during the training leading up to this event. That can all be addressed with regular therapeutic massage in the weeks and months leading up to, or even after the race is over. So what can pre-race massage help with then? Let’s take a look.
BEFORE THE RACE
- MIND OVER MATTER! Receiving pre-race massage as part of your complete warm-up routine can help give you a psychological edge in the race. The quick-paced strokes often used can help amp you up to be ready to go, and it can even provide a mental advantage that you’re receiving extra care before the race that other athletes may not be.
- GET THE JUICES FLOWING! A quick pre-race massage can help increase the circulation of the blood to and through the muscles, allowing them to be primed with fresh oxygen and nutrients vital for peak performance.
- STRETCH IT OUT! We’re not going for flexibility PR’s here, but a little help with stretching the major muscles that will be utilized during the race can go a long way with joint mobility and pliability. Massage therapists trained in providing pre-race massage are skilled at finding the natural, comfortable range of motion for the athlete and taking the muscles through smooth and guided movements that will help performance.
- GET IN “THE ZONE”! While total body relaxation is not what pre-race massage is designed for, many athletes find that pre-race massage allows them to clear their mind and focus on seeing their success in the race. Getting in a mental zone that removes the pre-race jitters and banishes the distractions inherent at the start line can prime the athlete to have a great day on the course.
AFTER THE RACE
So you’re signed up for a race and the event website is advertising post-race massage and you think, hmm…should I sign up? The quick answer is, yes! For so many reasons, yes! But here we’ll discuss just a few of the benefits you’ll receive from a brief recovery massage right at the finish line:
- INSTANT GRATIFICATION! It feels good and you’ve earned it! You just trained for this event and pushed hard through the race and likely experienced some pain for your efforts. Post-race massage helps to ease those aches through the power of touch.
- ACID REDUCTION! A trending topic of research in exercise physiology is lactate threshold. This is the intensity level of exercise at which your muscles are producing lactic acid faster than your body recycles it, leaving your muscles in an acidic (and performance-hindering) environment. In a race situation, this is when you start feeling “the burn” of your muscles as you push harder. After a race, the body still works to recycle the remaining lactic acid but is also hard at work repairing damaged muscle, accommodating swelling, and replenishing muscle glycogen. It’s tough for the body to manage all of these things at once, so the efficiency of all of them is reduced. Getting a post-race massage helps the body to reduce lactic acid in the system by increasing circulation to the muscles and aiding the movement of the acid away from the muscles.
- DECREASED SWELLING! Exercise causes microscopic damage in your muscles during your training, and especially in your races when you’ve pushed yourself hard! It happens all the time, and your body is pretty efficient at repairing the damage, but read above to see why the body can lose recovery efficiency after a race and you’ll understand why it’s important to give the body some extra help. To add insult to injury (pun intended) is that the swelling caused by the body going through its normal repair process is what is the root cause of the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that affects so many racers in the 24-48 hours after a hard effort. That post-race massage will again help the body in the repair process by removing excess metabolic waste products and bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles to use for repairing the body.
- CALM YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM! This goes for mentally and physically! From a mental perspective, a post-race massage can help to recover from the rigor and stressful environment of the race and bring back a calm mind. Physically, the nervous system has been firing on all cylinders to keep the heart, lungs and muscles at maximum efficiency. Sometimes the nervous system can remain readily excitable after a race resulting in a slow-to-recover heart rate or even muscle cramps after the event is over. A post-race massage helps to calm down that excitability, activating the parasympathetic (or rest and repose) portion of the nervous system.
Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP
Director of Massage & Wellness