Muscles pull on tendons which in turn pull on joints which ultimately gets us moving or in our cases running. In order for this to happen the brain sends signals to the nerves which through a chemical reaction causes the muscle to contract.
From time to time muscle fibres become “locked” in a contracted state otherwise known as a knot. This makes regular sports massage a very important part of your training program.
Find a good sports massage therapist
Finding someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to sports massage is the first and most important step. You want someone who understands what the body goes through in training and who is able to assess how deep the massage can be based on where you are in your training and what races are coming up.
For example, you don’t want someone who is going to do a very deep massage two days before a big race.
There has to be a first time for everything
Unfortunately, just like everything else, when it comes to sports massage there has to be a first time. The first time is usually the worst and you may well want to take a rest day following the sports massage. I remember the first time I went, I could hardly lift my legs for a run the next day. I found the experience very painful and unpleasant, but within 2-3 days started to feel good again and the more regularly I went for a massage the less painful and unpleasant it became. Of course my first time was during a pretty hectic training block which meant I had built up a lot of knots and my muscles were already quite tender and sore.
The good news is that the body adapts very quickly to massage and the more regularly you go the quicker your body bounces back. Of course, the more regularly you have a massage the less knots you accumulate between visits.
How often do I need a sports massage
The lighter your training load the less frequently you’ll need a massage, the higher and tougher your training load the more frequently you’ll need one. I like to advise that a runner go for a massage every 4-6 weeks in easy to moderate training blocks. But once the training begins to heat up both in terms of intensity and mileage I suggest once every 2-4 weeks and sometimes you may even need one every week when your legs are in really bad shape.
When is the best time for a massage
If your week is simply another training week, then try to put the massage in just before a rest day or an easy/recovery day. For example, you might have a hill or track session on a Thursday followed by a rest day or very easy run on the Friday, in this case try and get to the massage on the Thursday after your session. This will give your body time to recover and benefit the most from the massage.
When it comes to race week there are times when you may need a very light massage 1-2 days from the race, BUT this should be the exception as opposed to the rule. The only time you go for a massage that close to a race would be when you are desperate and you feel like the race may push you over the edge. In most cases you should aim for a massage around 5-7 days before race day, this will allow the therapist to give you a deep massage with plenty of time for the body to recover before race day.
The 2-3 days after a massage generally leave the legs with a bit of a heavy feeling and you definitely don’t want that as you toe the line of your goal race.
After a hard race give your legs 3-4 days to heal up and recover before going for a sports massage. After a hard race, especially if it’s a half marathon and up, will leave a fair amount of muscle damage and micro tears, a sports massage at this point is going to make it worse. A very light and shallow massage may be beneficial in the 2-3 days following a hard race, but for the deep tissue massage rather give your legs a few days to recover first.
Can I do it myself
Self-massage either through massaging arnica oil into your calfs and quads etc or through foam rolling are important between sports massage visits. It’s not always practical from a time or cost perspective to get to a massage every week and this is where self-massage can help to keep knots at bay. Be careful however not to overdo the self-massage and limit it to every other day at most.
If you’ve never been for a sports massage start getting it into your schedule and keep knots out of the equation. This will prevent you missing out on training or key races simply because your muscles have tightened up to the point where hamstring are pulling or calfs are going into spasm and you simply cannot run.