What’s the answer to the realization of world-wide peace and harmony? Massage. Regular, weekly, massage. If everyone spent ninety minutes on the table every week, no one would be angry, stressed, or aggressive. We would all be blissed-out, contemplative, present, and friendly.
Cyclists have a much more practical reason for getting on the massage table: performance. Not just a luxury or an indulgence, a regular massage program is a crucial part of any competitive cyclist’s training regimen. When should you see a massage therapist? Whenever you are ready to take your body maintenance, and your results, to the next level. Pro cyclists are massaged all the time; race days, training days, recovery days, and of course, spa days with the spouse. Enthusiast-level cyclists would do well to receive a massage once a week to once a month depending on need. Elite and competitive cyclists should consider one to two times a week according to season.
Well-established is the reduction of stress, pain, and discomfort brought about by massage, all beneficial to cyclists. Other crucial benefits include the reduction of exercise-induced inflammation, increased range of motion of joints and muscles by releasing and breaking up adhesions, and maximizing your body’s recovery process. Massage helps you help yourself.
While self-massage is a viable tool for performance improvement (see our post on effective self-massage here), working with a professional therapist has the potential to greatly elevate your game. Since you are responsible for generating the strength needed to put self-massage tools to use, or regulating the pressure of your body weight against the tool, working on yourself will never be as effective as having a therapist do the work while you (try to) relax. Over time, a therapist gets to know your body—what is normal for it and what is not—which helps to prevent injuries and heal them quickly. Also, a therapist can educate you about anatomy, muscles, joints, and how yours behave. This helps you make informed decisions on how to respond effectively to feedback from your body.
When looking for a therapist, keep in mind that there are many different massage modalities available, some with more or less benefit to cyclists than others. Sports massage, deep tissue, trigger point therapy, myofascial release, and Swedish massage are all modalities cyclists will benefit from. Ask other athletes in your area who their therapists are. You may end up seeing several different therapists depending on what you need according to your training schedule. More intense massage work, such as deep tissue, and trigger point, should be scheduled thoughtfully. This work should be done close enough to a race to realize the benefits, but not close enough to still feel soreness. Conversely, Swedish massage is beneficial right up to the day before the race, as it’s a lighter touch modality intended for relaxation and to stimulate circulation. Aspects of sports massage, of course, can be administered right up until race time, as vibration and light compression warms and loosens muscles in preparation for athletic performance.
Massage Modalities for Cyclists:
Sports massage focuses on enhancing movement and maintaining flexibility, reducing inflammation, pre-event warm up and stimulating post-event recovery. Assisted stretching, muscle release, kneading, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation are all techniques used. Sports massage is often used for injury recovery and prevention, and incorporated into a regular massage program. Most cyclists will benefit from sports massage at any time during their schedule, as it helps to maximize range of motion, lengthens muscles, and reduces fatigue.
Deep tissue massage is a common and very important modality for cyclists. Deep tissue work relieves muscle tension and restrictions, alleviates chronic discomfort and tension, posture issues, poor range of motion, increases flexibility and speeds recovery after heavy physical activity. If you are like most of the cyclists I know, that list of ailments probably sounds all too familiar. Deep tissue can be uncomfortable, and care should be taken not to receive deep tissue work too close to a race.
Trigger point therapy is another modality cyclists will benefit from, as it relieves chronic pain in areas including the low back, neck, and shoulders, common areas of tension for cyclists. Producing local (at the sight of compression) or referred (away from the site of compression) pain when compressed, trigger points are released with steady, deep pressure administered by a therapist’s hands or massage tools. This is a modality that cyclists can administer themselves, but a professional will be able to quickly identify problem areas and administer effective treatment.
Very popular among athletes is myofascial release, which stretches fascia with the intention of freeing adhesions and binding among the fascial layers. Myofascial release is effective for both injury-prevention and recovery, and it greatly helps range of motion and postural problems. Usually gentle, this slow, intentional technique can uncover some painful areas. A skilled practitioner can help to unlock bound muscles and joints resulting in pain relief and greater freedom of movement for the cyclist.
Swedish massage is a gentle, flowing modality focused on promoting general relaxation and a feeling of well-being. Swedish techniques are often used in conjunction with other modalities to warm and relax muscles, relieve mental and physical tension, and to stimulate lymphatic and vascular circulation. Many cyclists appreciate a Swedish massage in the days before a race to calm the nerves and promote a sense of rejuvenation.
Common Cycling Injuries Benefitting from Massage:
Cyclists are often afflicted by overuse injuries, commonly around the knee, and in the quads and hamstrings. Tight IT bands are unfortunately familiar to many of us, and can cause pain in and affect movement of the knees and hips. Sports massage, deep tissue, and myofascial release modalities are very effective at treating these ailments. Pain or tightness in the low back, neck and shoulder are also treated with the above modalities, in addition to trigger point therapy.
Massage can help heal patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee), patellofemoral syndrome (general knee pain), quandriceps tendinitis (pain in the tendon above the knee cap), IT band friction syndrome, low back pain, and neck pain.
Massage is a vital part of an effective body maintenance program, which should include stretching and strength exercises. Developing a relationship with a trusted therapist will help you keep your body tuned and nimble, and enable you to effectively heal and even avoid injuries. For maintenance between sessions with your therapist, check out our line of self massage tools.