The benefits of sports massage for triathletes
Sports Massage for Triathlon
Triathlon is a demanding sport which places the body under a lot of stress – you are performing 3 different sports at your peak athletic potential.
I have raced triathlon since 1996, in that time I have completed 4 Ironman distance triathlons and was privileged enough to race for Great Britain in the 2007 European Long Course Championships in my age category, as well as many other races from sprint distance upwards. I also run marathons and race the bike in time trials.
As a sports massage therapist I treat triathletes on a regular basis and have worked at many events, including the World Long Course Triathlon Championships in 2007 and 2008 as the Great Britain Team Massage Therapist.
I have treated complete novices preparing for their first race, regular age group triathletes, age groupers preparing for National, European and World Championships, and, elite athletes aiming to win World titles.
How does Sports Massage work?
Sports massage differs from other types of massage. It is aimed at being more specific – the muscles are worked into deeper and various stretching techniques are applied to benefit the athlete.
Regular sports massage treatment during the season (and off season) should form part of your overall training plan so that you can help your tired muscles recover and relax, improve flexibility, prevent any injuries, and, also be able to work your muscles harder in future training sessions and races.
Tight and tired muscles do not work as well and are more prone to injury
Triathlon places the body under a lot of mechanical, muscular, and mental stress and during an event you will be working lots of different muscle groups.
In the swim you will be working the shoulder, back, and, neck muscles as well as your glutes, hips and legs.
On the bike you will be working the legs and lower back as well as placing stress on the shoulder and neck muscles due to being down on your tri-bars for long periods of time.
On the run you will be again working the legs and lower back and as you get tired there may be some tension in your shoulder and neck muscles.
If for example, you have raced a long distance triathlon, such as an Ironman-distance race, you could well be working your muscles for anywhere between 9 to 17 hours!!! And that means some very tired muscle groups at the end of the race.
There are different ways to approach getting massage treatment during the season
Most of the clients I see benefit the most from receiving treatment either before a race, or, at the end of a hard training block.
For pre-race massage I would advise seeing a therapist 3-4 days before your race. This will give the body adequate time to recover from and gain the full benefits of the massage and therefore get you to the start line feeling revitalised and refreshed.
You can also have treatment a couple of days or the day before an event but be aware of how your body reacts and recovers from such treatment – my advice would be to tell the therapist that you have a race approaching and that you only want light work and stretching performed. If there are any problems that are found you can always address these after race-day.
I advise my clients that the best time to get treatment during training phases is in the recovery week (or after the hardest session that they are doing that particular week) when the training workload is lighter and to see the treatment as part of the training itself (just in the same way you would with supplemental training such as stretching, Yoga, or Pilates).
This has the benefit of tackling the stress that the muscles have been put through during training so that you are able to train at your full potential again. A good massage therapist will also be able to advise on stretching techniques as well so that you continue to remain flexible and injury free.
Post-event Sports Massage
Post-event massage is always important as part of the post-race recovery phase. Again, you would have placed the body under a lot of mechanical stress during the race and will no doubt come away from the race with aching muscles and feeling tired. I advise clients (depending on the event) to get a post-race massage 2-3 days after the event. The main aim of post-race massage is to help flush out the toxins in the muscles and to stretch muscles out.
You may feel the need to get regular treatment on a weekly, fortnightly, or, monthly basis – this is great in helping you to recover from your training, will help with flexibility, will prevent injury and will make sure that the muscles are relaxed for future training sessions.
Some of the triathletes I treat will alternate weekly between getting their back, shoulders, neck and arms treated if they have been doing a lot of swim training, to getting their lower back, glutes and legs treated if they are doing lots of bike and run training. Sometimes they will only want specific areas treated or focused upon – for example, extra emphasis on calf muscles if they have been doing hill training on the bike or run.
The one major benefit I have found from treating triathletes on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly basis is that I work with the athlete to be aware of their body and the way it works. I am able to detect any small problems before they develop into an injury.
Speak to the massage therapist about your training, your goals and how your body feels as they will be able to advise on the number of sessions that they feel you should be getting both during the season and in the off-season.
Sports massage is also key for injuries. If injured you will want to get back to training and racing as soon as possible and treatment will be able to help with this. The massage therapist will be able to deal with the injured area and advise on recovery as well as rehabilitation exercises.
There are many benefits to regular sports massage treatment
Recovery is the main benefit – the tired muscles are being stretched and the metabolic waste and toxins that build up in muscles are released. The nutrients in the fresh blood being pumped into the muscles helps speed up the recovery process by repairing muscle damage, controls inflammation and any associated pain.
Massage also alleviates trigger points within the muscles, breaks down adhesions and the build up of scar tissue – all of which can affect the function of key muscle groups when racing and training.
Injury prevention is vital – there is no point putting time and effort into hard training sessions only to become injured weeks or days before a key event in the season.
Injury rehabilitation – again there is no point putting the hard effort in only to miss key races during a season because injuries keep returning.
You get to know your body better – this has the benefit of being able to focus key sessions on strengthening weak areas of the muscles and again is key to injury prevention.
It is has psychological benefits – the muscles learn to relax, you know that you body is feeling good before going into a key race or block of hard training and you know that your body is in peak condition.
As a massage therapist I see many athletes before races and feel it is one of my jobs to reassure them that their bodies are in good condition and to let them know that I see no reason why they won’t have a good race – knowing that you are on the start line in peak condition is an excellent confidence booster and could be the difference between a good race or a brilliant race.
Sports Massage knowledge
Common injuries that can occur during triathlon training and racing are swimmers shoulder, lower back pain, illiotibial band syndrome (runners knee), hamstring strains, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and, plantar fasciitis.
As a massage therapist who treats triathletes on a regular basis I feel it is important to know the sport from all angles. I’ve raced in triathlon since 1996 and have a wealth of experience. Even with the experience that I have I am learning new things each week from the athletes that I treat which are beneficial to me as a therapist and an athlete.
I am able to advise clients on many aspects of the sport – tactics, training, nutrition, recovery, races to do etc. I also listen to my clients, pick up tips from them and occasionally train with them so I also have an understanding of the terrain and sessions that they are doing.
Find a massage therapist that you are comfortable with, who understands your needs as an athlete and who is able to tailor the treatment to those needs. If you can find a therapist who has a knowledge of triathlon as well, they will have a better understanding of the demands of training and competition.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the sessions either. I always tell my clients at the end of every session if they have any questions whatsoever to either call me or drop me an e-mail.
Although the advice here is aimed at triathletes the same principals apply for all sports. I treat a range of sports men and women and if I don’t have an understanding of the sport I will ask lots of questions during the session and also go away and research the sport so I have a better understanding which will then benefit the client in the long run.
Happy Training and Racing!
|About The Author
Richard Guy trained at the London School of Sports Massage in 2006 and qualified as a Sports & Remedial Massage Therapist in January 2007 and has since worked in private practice.
Richard races for Bec Cycling Club and is an experienced triathlete, marathon runner, and, time trialist.
Find out more about Richard’s work by visiting his GoToSee profile page here