Running is great for the body. It increases your lung capacity, boosts your immune system, lowers your risk of blood clots and keeps your weight under control. Many experts even argue that human bodies were designed to run. With everything from the shape of our hips and feet, to the length of our legs and the shock-absorbing capacity of our spinal discs, our bodies are perfectly constructed to enable us to run long distances. As it turns out, Bruce Springsteen was right: we really were ‘born to run’.
But ask any runner how their body feels after a run and you get a very different picture. Chafing, blisters and blackened toenails, not to mention stiff joints and sore muscles. This is where massage comes in. Massages help prevent injury and loss of mobility, revive sore muscles and can even help you run harder and faster. Professional runners regularly recruit massage therapists to improve their running performance and keep their bodies in check.
So whether you’re a pro-runner training for a marathon or a newbie setting out to tackle your first 5K, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about using massage to improve your runs.
Why Should You Get a Massage?
It aids muscle recovery
The wind in your hair, the open road winding before you and the feel-good endorphins pumping through your body — there’s nothing quite like a good run. But fast forward to the next day and you feel as though you’ve been hit by a truck. Small tasks that are normally so easy become impossible and you even have symptoms suspiciously like the flu. What happened?
When you run, you place your body under a lot of pressure. This releases toxins into your muscle tissue. When adhesions and scarring form between your muscles and fascia (the sheath that surrounds your muscles), you’re left with that peg-legged, stiff and sore feeling. The worst part? Your running routine is put on hold while you slowly recover, making it even harder to get going again.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Massages expedite the healing process. The forceful pressure and kneading motion of a massage stimulate your circulation and blood flow to relieve pressure from your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Your joints are limbered up and the connecting tissue regains its flexibility. The massage process reduces inflammation and stiffness and, for an added bonus, a massage will also boost your immune system — reducing those horrid flu-like symptoms.
It rebalances your muscles
After a big run, have you ever felt soreness in muscles you never realized you had? You try to stretch it out, but just can’t seem to target those aches and pains. You’re not alone.
Our bodies work on a weight and pulley system known as the musculoskeletal system. All of our muscles are interconnected. When one muscle becomes fatigued from overuse, a supporting muscle steps in to take the weight off. When the secondary muscle is no longer capable of supporting the strain, it passes to a tertiary muscle, and so on. It creates a domino effect — one topples and the rest follow.
A massage stretches the bundles of muscles fibers sideways and longitudinally to release built-up tension and pressure. Unlike stretching, a massage gets deep into the fibers and tissues of even the smallest muscles. Hard and inelastic tissue is teased and softened to restore balance to your body. So if you’re one of the many runners who suffer from problems with your hamstrings, IT bands or Achilles heel, try using a massage to work the surrounding muscles and restore your full range of movement.
It clears the mind
As a runner, you spend hours working on your physical performance and endurance, but what about your mental health? You may be tempted to forgo mental balance and relaxation in favor of an intense gym session, but your ability to go the extra mile or beat your personal best is as much mental as it is physical.
Keeping your mind clear and focused on your goals is half the battle. Our lives are stressful and demanding. Bills, relationships and work can slowly infiltrate our minds as we run and it can be dangerous. Accidents happen when you’re not focused and in control of your thoughts.
Massage isn’t just about reviving your tired body — it also helps to re-energize a frazzled mind. The next time you’re preparing for a big run, take the time to get not just your body in peak condition, but your mind too.
What Massage Is Best for Runners?
All massages will help to restore and protect your body and mind. However, there are some massages that work particularly well for specific running concerns:
For periods of intense training
A deep tissue massage will target the deep and superficial layers of muscle and fascia to work the entire muscle. For periods of intense training, this kind of massage will promote healing and help keep your body in optimal physical condition.
For periods of injury recovery
Active Release Technique, or A.R.T., combines movement with targeted, deep pressure to break up muscle adhesions and scar tissue. If you’ve suffered an injury, this massage will help you get back to running in no time.
For before a big race
A Swedish massage may be the go-to for spa visitors, but it’s also your best bet for before a big race. By using soft-pressure to relax and revive your body, the long, flowing strokes of this massage will release any stress and tension you may feel before the big day. Plus, it feels amazing!
When Should I Get a Massage?
There is just one rule to remember when it comes to a massage, and that’s to never get one right before or after a big run. You may be tempted to indulge in a bit of R&R as a reward for all of your hard work, but you could do end up doing more damage than good. A massage is a workout in itself. The deep pressure of a massage releases waste products at a cellular level and works your muscle, just like a workout does. Instead, hold off for two or three days to really reap the benefits of a massage.
Just as it takes consistent exercise to build stamina and muscle, when it comes to massages, consistency is key. We know it’s not always realistic to visit a massage therapist every week, but a foam roller or massage chair makes for an economical alternative that you can enjoy at your own convenience and in the comfort of your home.
Author bio: Anthony R. Izzo is the Vice President of truMedic, a personal health and wellness business that sells the highest quality home massage and pain relief equipment at affordable prices.