You pushed yourself to the max at the gym last night, and now you’re feeling it this morning (think: even walking down the stairs is excruciating). That’s when your bestie tells you about this awesome sports massage she got last week—should you try it, too? We asked physical therapist Dr. Nicole Lombardo for the lowdown on this recovery technique.
What’s the difference between a sports massage and a regular massage, anyway? “In general, massage supports relaxation, improves blood flow and decreases muscle tension. This contributes to accelerated muscle recovery and improved muscular performance. A sports massage differs from a traditional massage in that it caters to active individuals to assist in recovery and to prevent injury.” And while a regular massage typically uses sweeping motions all over your body (that feel oh-so good), a sports massage will be more targeted (and can be more uncomfortable).
Why should I get a sports massage? You don’t need to be a pro-level athlete to reap the benefits. “A skilled therapist can recognize when the soft tissues of the body are abnormal or imbalanced. These abnormalities can lead to aches and pains, they can affect performance, or they can predispose an individual to injury. A sports massage can also be helpful following an injury, to help soothe pain and prevent compensations and muscular imbalances.”
How can I prepare for a sports massage? Take it easy, says Lombardo. “Muscles respond better to relaxation techniques and soft tissue work when they are warm. Even if you don't line up your workout schedule with your massage schedule, coming into a massage completely ‘cold’ may not be as effective as coming in after a light jog or walk.”
And what about afterward? Just like after a fancy massage at the spa, it’s important to hydrate after. “A massage helps to break up muscle adhesions and begin the toxin removal process, so I highly recommend drinking plenty of water to replenish the muscles and to finish flushing toxins out of your system.” And it's especially helpful to drink electrolytes, Lombardo tells us. Bring on the coconut water.
How should I find a massage therapist? Ask friends, gym buddies or instructors who have similar fitness goals. Whether you’re a CrossFitter (impressive), a runner or a yogi, you want to find a therapist who understands what kind of training you’re doing so they know what they might need to focus on.
One more thing: “Lastly, make sure you understand what your therapist found and know that this isn't a one-time fix. For example, if you have a tight low back, there must be something you are doing during your sport, or throughout your day that holds tension in your back. Getting massages regularly and recognizing habits that may contribute to this can help alleviate your low back tightness.”