Silent Sports Column

With two weeks out from the Door County Triathlon, training is coming to an end and focus shifts instead to recovery. If my budget looks good, the first thing I turn to in keeping my legs fresh is massage therapy.

Massage for sports performance is a far cry from the picture of a smiling woman on a pillow of clouds overlooking a white beach. Instead of feeling refreshed and relaxed, I often feel a similar soreness following a tough workout. But, in the end, I always achieve the benefit I’m looking for.

There are two primary purposes for including massages in a training plan.

The first is to address any strains, knots in the muscle or areas with scar tissue and inflammation. In doing so, you are made more aware of muscles in the body that you didn’t know were giving you trouble. For me, this usually comes in the form of my gluteus muscles. On a day-to-day basis, these muscles feel fine. But having someone else open my hips up and search for deep muscle tissue exposes these hidden weaknesses.

The other reason for frequent massage is to flush your muscles of metabolic waste that builds up during training. Metabolic waste from exercise is commonly in the form of lactic acid, which is associated with muscle soreness, but can also include carbon dioxide and other cellular waste. Massage increases blood flow to the muscles, allowing blood to pick up the wastes and drop them off at the kidneys to dispose of.

While these two things sound good at any time, massages should be thoughtfully scheduled in a training plan. Deep tissue sports massages put muscles through stress and the release of these metabolic wastes can often make someone feel sluggish and fatigued for the few hours following a massage while the kidneys work to get rid of these toxins. So scheduling a big workout after a massage is not ideal.

Leading up to a race, your massages get less intense. A light, relaxing massage should not stress your muscles and inhibit performance on race day. If you have been recovering leading up to the week, you shouldn’t need a deep tissue massage anyway.

While specialized massage therapy can be expensive, there are self-massage methods that you can do at home to achieve similar benefit. A foam roller is a large, stiff cylinder that you roll along your muscles to mimic the motions of a masseuse. While commercial foam rollers can run for $40, getting a piece of cylindrical Styrofoam and cutting it to your needs works just as well.