The Multi-Faceted Role of Massage in Training, Part III

By Melissa Hall, LMT

This is the third article in a three part series on massage:


So, now you know what massage can do for you. But, when should you schedule a massage? The first thing you should know is that the effects of massage are cumulative. So, if you wait too long between massages, they will not have a progressive effect on one another. The power of each massage will have to stand alone. This is not to say that one massage session cannot have significant effects on you, but you should not expect it to cure all that ails you, especially if you have had the problem for some time.

I recommend that athletes get a massage before their competition or long run. The reason is two fold: first, I want them to have the best performance possible and second, I want their tissue in optimal condition to reduce the risk of injury. Many people like to come after their event to relieve soreness. Massage can definitely help with that. And, optimally, if you have the time and budget for both, that is the best option. But, if you are like most, you must choose. There are numerous things that can be done after the event to reduce soreness, but nothing can prepare you for the event like a massage. So, I recommend the before massage.

Optimally, if you are training regularly for an event, you should seek a massage once every other week for maintenance and injury prevention. If you are seeking an ambitious goal, such as first place in your age group or qualifying for the Boston Marathon, you may choose to seek massage even more often than that. Pushing your body to the limit six or seven days a week will require you to pay back in kind with massage lest you fall victim to an injury or an ugly overtraining incident. If you are training to stay in shape or just because you are in love with the sport, you may wish to seek massage once every three weeks to a month. If you receive massage on any time scale outside the once a month time frame, just be aware that the condition of your body wasn’t built overnight. It is a culmination of hours and hours of training. So, one hour of massage is not going to undo all that which you strived to incorporate.

I recommend that massage be received several days before an event or long run. Remember the homeostatic return of muscle tissue to its original length? And, what of the time required to rejuvenate tissue that was previously without adequate circulation? It is desirable that you have at the least one, or more desirably, two easy workouts before your event to put your tissues in optimal condition. Post-race massage should be received at the event whenever possible and again later in the week from your regular therapist. Post-event “deep tissue” massage should only be received forty-eight to seventy-two hours after the event. This is because the body has an inherent inflammatory process that it conducts to aid in its healing. This is a necessary process which you do not want to interrupt or, even worse, exacerbate with massage.

Balancing Out Your Energy Systems

Your body is equipped with two major divisions of the nervous system. One is called the sympathetic nervous system, the other the asympathetic. Your sympathetic system is more commonly known as the “fight or flight” system. It is when your adrenaline is pumping and you are sprinting to the finish line. Only from a physiological perspective, your body thinks you are running from a dinosaur! There are numerous effects of the invoking that sympathetic nervous system. In and of itself, these are not bad effects. However, without balance (by equal invocation of the asympathetic nervous system), you can end up being overtrained or even with adrenal failure. The asympathetic nervous system is utilized during sleep, meditation, yoga class, tai chi, or getting a relaxing massage. Athletes demand a LOT of their bodies. Make sure you give back.

Come Prepared

A healthy body is approximately 72% water. In order to get the most out of your massage, you must come hydrated and must hydrate when you leave. Myofascial release and deep tissue massage will release waste products into your bloodstream. These waste products are usually acidic in nature, dropping the pH of your blood. (One commonly reported symptom of this occurrence is headache.) You will want to increase your blood volume by adding to your water intake in the days before, of, and after your massage to dilute your blood. This will help your body maintain a more normal blood pH level and flush all those unwanted toxins from your body.

So, drink up and ease onto the table – give back to the body you ask so much of – it will thank you ten fold!

One Step Beyond Assistant Coach Melissa Hall – December 2006