How Can Massage Therapy Help Cyclists Reach their Optimal Performance?
Last weekend, Colorado hosted its 27th annual Courage Classic Bike Tour, a grueling two-day campaign through our state’s most beautiful mountain passes. Over 2,000 committed riders took to the hills to raise $2.2 million and counting for the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, and I think it’s safe to say that when they crossed the finish line, they felt like they had just participated in the Tour de France. And I also imagine that their bodies felt the same way.
This made me think: competitive cyclists often travel with on-staff Massage Therapists. But what about the Semi-Pro or Weekend Warrior? Whether you’re a seasoned pro or an enthusiastic amateur, Massage Therapy offers vital benefits to your cycling training regimen. As we discussed last week in Massage for Cyclists, Part One: Injury Prevention, cycling is a tremendously taxing sport on any body, using a large variety of muscle groups, requiring extended periods of time in the saddle, and often allowing for little recovery time between outings. While cycling is not considered a high-impact activity, nonetheless the physical demands placed on the body, including a bent-forward posture and series of repetitive motions, can lead to significant overuse injuries.
To enhance their athletic performance, many cyclists swear by a regular course of Sports Massage, which is a branch of Massage Therapy geared toward promoting recuperation by stimulating rather than relaxing the physical and nervous systems. Sports Massage often incorporates Deep Tissue Massage to improve circulation, which not only increases healing blood flow and oxygen to tight and overworked muscles, but also assists in the flushing of metabolic waste that builds up in muscles and reduces their recovery rate. A Sports Massage session may also incorporate Myofascial Release techniques to break up adhesions, and this attention to the connective tissue throughout the body can yield early detection of postural misalignments, and muscular and soft tissue issues before they actually become injury. Finally, Massage Therapy can bolster your mental endurance by promoting relaxation and balancing your nervous systems. And all of this serves to improve the quality of your cycling performance and training, which makes it seem like a necessity rather than a luxury.
When And How To Get a Massage?
By now you are probably thinking, OK, I’m sold! But before you run (or ride!) out to schedule a 3-hour Deep Tissue session with your friendly neighborhood Massage Therapist the day before your next race, here are some basic guidelines for when and what kind of Massage Therapy will probably best complement your training regimen.
- Pre-event massage: focused on warming up the muscles and preparing them for activity. Although Deep Tissue Massage may sound inviting, I would encourage you to make sure you schedule such work no fewer than 3-4 days before a big event, to give your body enough time to get over the “heavy legs” that can result from this type of bodywork. The day before the event, however, a gentler relaxation-focused massage can get the body and mind to optimal performance readiness.
- Post-event Massage: focused on promoting recovery and refreshing muscles for their next outing. Massage should be light and therapeutic in nature, with the intention of flushing metabolic waste, increasing circulation to fatigued or overused muscle groups, and stretching and relaxing muscle fibers to combat soreness or Delayed Onset Soreness.
- Maintenance Massage: regular tune-ups to keep the rider fresh and flexible, to allow the cyclist to train with more frequency. A Massage Therapist may use a variety of techniques to eliminate trigger points, check for muscle imbalances, and address any nagging issues that are on their way to becoming full-blown injuries.
And in the case of a serious injury, if scar tissue is allowed to build up after an incident, it can impede blood flow to the afflicted area. Massage Therapy can facilitate faster recovery, by flooding the area with oxygen rich blood, necessary to promote the healing process.
I have a client who is an avid cyclist, 5 days a week in the saddle. He recently had a pretty bad wipeout and ended up fracturing his pelvis. He was extremely hesitant to get his regular massage – “I can’t get up the stairs” (fortunately there is an elevator here at Boulder Sports Massage), “I can’t get on the table” (fortunately my table raises and lowers), “It’s going to hurt” (fortunately, we believe in empathetic bodywork here.) So he reluctantly showed up. Now, I can’t fix a fracture. I never worked directly on the injury, but I did address much of the surrounding musculature and other areas where we discovered fear and holding. Releasing tension from areas of distress also allowed the lymph system to do its work. The end result was getting him feeling comfortable again, physically and mentally. Once he got off the table, he was surprised at how his entire system had relaxed from treatment. And we believe that this moved him through the injury at a much more rapid rate.
Which leads me to one final note, I’d like to discuss in further depth how I have found Massage Therapy to boost mental performance in cycling – among other sports – by helping to balance the Sympathetic (“Fight or Flight”) Nervous System, with its partner, the Parasympathetic (“Rest and Digest”) Nervous System. When the body is in physical distress, for example experiencing muscle soreness and fatigue after a big ride, the Sympathetic Nervous System tends to take over, increasing adrenal function and heart rate and actually holding tension in already at-their-limit tight muscles. Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System actually allows the body to adapt and recover at a systemic level, which means that inflammation will decrease, muscles will experience less soreness, and the physiological systems will get back to an optimal state – in short, the body gets ready for action again. Not a bad little side benefit, considering how quick my cycling clients are wanting to jump back in the saddle after a big day’s exertions.
So if you have been hitting the road (or the trail) hard, give your friendly neighborhood Massage Therapist a call – or a text, or schedule an appointment online! Whether you are feeling some adverse effects of your labors, or just training hard and looking to keep your wheels spinning, odds are good that some Sports Massage is just the thing to help you avoid having to take a break, and to get you into a breakaway.
Power to the Peaceful Body,
Boulder Sports Massage
Your Boulder resource for Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage with empathy