Milk and cookies, peanut butter and jam, running and massage. It’s obvious – they go very well together. Well, perhaps the last combo may not have been so obvious, but it certainly rings true. Massage is the runner’s secret weapon. It can help prevent and manage injuries, minimize recovery time, increase stamina and endurance, and it can even help you attain higher speeds.
It’s no surprise that running is one of the most popular forms of exercise. It burns calories, improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens your lungs and heart, builds your lower musculature and for some people, offers time for mental organization or relaxation. On the other hand, the bone-jarring impacts common to running, especially so for street-runners, can wreak havoc on your joints, and over exertion can lead to all sorts of problems with the musculoskeletal system.
Following every run, your body enters a recovery phase to repair damaged areas and re-build weakened muscle. The strength of your circulatory system can define the speed at which you recover. A strong circulatory system will also help prevent injuries and it can even boost your running performance. It is the workhorse of your body, managing the distribution of nutrients, oxygen, electrolytes and glucose to starved leg muscles and tissues all the while dealing with the elimination of metabolic waste products.
A certified massage therapist can apply special techniques that will improve your circulatory system by dilating blood and lymph vessels which will in turn helping to flush-out lactic acid from hamstrings and quads. Using stroking movements, a massage can create suction within the vessels, pulling fluid along behind the stroke, increasing the flow.
The same movement stretches the fascia (the sheath) that surrounds the muscles, releasing them from the muscle fibre and fostering flow within, especially important for tight muscles which would otherwise remain impermeable. At the same time, muscles that have been freed of their fascial adhesions can be worked deeply, leading to an increase in muscle elasticity and joint maneuverability, directly elevating performance and slashing the risk of injuries.
Finally, triggering the release of endorphins (natural painkillers) into the bloodstream, massage can also help minimize pain which will improve the runner’s ability to recover and also minimize pre-run anxiety and stress. A good massage will leave you feeling elated and relaxed, and depending on the treatment received, you could feel slightly dizzy.
There are generally five different types of massage of benefit to a runner:
1) Deep Tissue: As its name implies, this treatment targets tissue and fascia deep within and can be especially intense. The therapy relieves pain and flexibility challenges. While potentially painful, the end justifies the means. You will feel extremely relaxed, almost euphoric. In the days following, your body will be limber and flexible.
2) Swedish: Long, light stroking helps to relieve stress and is mainly beneficial to runners before competitions. The lighter touch releases muscle tension but doesn’t damage muscles and so doesn’t negatively impact performance. However, by relaxing your body it can help you focus your mind on the race ahead.
3) Trigger Point: Best suited to reducing adhesions and releasing tight knots in your muscles, Trigger Point is generally leveraged for injuries. It is effective for hamstring injuries, calf strains, and reducing IT band tightness.
4) Reflexology: This treatment focuses on the feet and can be especially effective for plantar fasciitis and injuries to the heel and ankle. It will leave you feeling relaxed and ready to keep training.
5) Active Release: More commonly known by its initials, ART minimizes scar formation and muscle adhesions through the application of specific-point deep pressure and fibre stretching. ART is best suited for plantar fasciitis, shin-splints and hamstring injuries.
Every runner has a treatment plan unique to their situation and when you first book a sports massage, your therapist will start the session with a discussion about your running habits, and will help you set-up a massage schedule that fits your needs both in timing and in the type of massage best suited to your requirements. Generally, it is a good idea to have a massage at least once a week during training season and within 3 to 5 days before and after a competition.
Above all, to maximize your health and performance, remember to stay hydrated, focus on your goals, and keep your muscles limber and ready with a regular massage.