When I set a bench press PR during a workout with Muscle Nation co-founder Chris Anastasii, we cranked out a lot of warm-up sets first. Then the heavy lifting started. And I maxed out at 200 kg (440 pounds). And you know what I did after that? I booked massage therapy session.
Massage therapy for sore muscles
If you’re lifting heavy, it’s going to take a toll on your muscles. It’s one reasons rest days, nutrition, and hydration are so important. But sometimes that’s not enough to support muscle recovery between workouts.
Feel muscle soreness or tightness days after a workout? Massage therapy can help.
Heavy lifting takes a toll
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been lifting heavy and hitting my chest hard with incline cable flyes, dumbbell chest flyes, more bench press work, and other lifts.
When I started noticing tightness in my chest, I knew it was time to step up my massage therapy sessions again.
Once a week might work for some people, but I feel better with two to three massage therapy sessions a week when my training and intensity level is hard.
A lot of people associate massage therapy with relaxation. And that’s certainly a benefit. But there are a number of other reasons massage therapy can help you when you’re lifting weights, building muscle, and training hard.
1. Improve flexibility
For every lift you do in the gym (bicep curls, shoulder press, squats, etc.), you should always use a full range of motion. It’s the best way to build muscle, strength, and endurance, and avoid developing an injury. But you need flexibility to do this.
Static stretching and foam rolling (also called self-myofascial release) can lengthen muscles and release knots and adhesions that limit flexibility. I include stretching recommendations in all my plays. Massage therapy can help with flexibility, too.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers found that three minutes of massage therapy helped improve flexibility in tight hamstrings. The same technique can be used to improve flexibility for other muscles.
“This technique may prove beneficial and effective for athletic trainers, massage therapists and physical therapists who are looking for a modality that quickly and efficiently helps restore flexibility to tight musculature,” says lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Forman.
2. Increase circulation
Your muscles grow after your workout in the gym is over. You grab a post-workout meal, hit your protein goal, and drink plenty of fluids. And your body starts rebuilding and repairing the muscle damage from your workout with increased blood flow.
Researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to find out if massage therapy could help increase circulation and speed recovery. They were able to measure increases in blood flow for people who received massage therapy after a leg press workout, compared to people who did the same leg press workout but didn’t get a massage.
The massage therapy group also reported a decrease in muscle soreness 90 minutes after a massage, while the exercise-only group still had muscle soreness 24 hours after the workout.
3. Reduce pain
I don’t recommend massive amounts of cardio to lose fat, build muscle, or complete a transformation. But think about this for a second.
How do you think you would feel after swimming 2.4-miles (3.86 km), cycling 112-miles (180.25 km), and running 26.2-miles (42.16 km) run?
Even for people who train to compete in the Ironman Triathlon feel pretty trashed afterwards.
It’s one reason researchers selected this group to study the benefits of massage therapy for pain management.
After completing this grueling endurance event, participants typically experience muscle pain and inflammation caused by activity overload, depleted glycogen levels, and an increase in lactic acid.
It’s similar to what happens to your muscles on a high-volume, heavy lifting day.
Following the Ironman event, researchers evaluated two groups of people. One received no intervention for pain management post race. The other group received massage therapy, particularly targeted to treat pain and fatigue in the quads.
The result: “Massage therapy was more effective than no intervention on the post-race recovery from pain and perceived fatigue in long-distance triathlon athletes,” says lead researcher Guilherme Nunes.
If you’re feeling muscle pain and tightness after a workout, massage therapy can help.
4. Improve Sleep
When one of my clients isn’t making progress, I start looking at all the different variables that might be getting in the way.
The cause is usually linked to their workouts, nutrition, hydration, or stress.
But there’s another variable that comes up frequently that can prevent you from making gains…Lack of sleep.
When you’re sleeping, your body releases human growth hormone to help repair and rebuild muscle damage after working out using available protein.
But if you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, you’re missing out on some of those benefits.
Fortunately, research shows that massage therapy can improve sleep quality and duration, to help you recover after working out.
5. Speed recovery
Hit a workout hard, and you’re probably going to experience delayed onset muscle soreness, typically 1 to 3 days after your workout.
It’s a sign the muscles you trained have experienced the kind of muscle damage needed to promote growth. But if you’re too sore after a workout, it might interfere with your next training session.
Here’s another reason to book a massage therapy session. It helps speed recovery and heal damaged muscles, says researcher Pornratshanee Weerapong.
“Massage can produce mechanical pressure, which is expected to increase muscle compliance resulting in increased range of joint motion, decreased passive stiffness and decreased active stiffness (biomechanical mechanisms),” says Weerapong. “Mechanical pressure might help to increase blood flow by increasing the arteriolar pressure, as well as increasing muscle temperature from rubbing.”
Train harder, train smarter with massage therapy
If you don’t want to spend the money on a massage 1 to 3 times a week, at least use a foam roller after training to help speed recovery and manage delayed onset muscle soreness.
I plan to get back in the habit of getting a massage a couple times a week, because I know it works to improve flexibility, increase circulation, reduce pain, improve sleep, and speed recovery.
Looking for training strategies to help you achieve your goals? Check out my customized training programs to get started.
- Forman, J. (2014). Effect of deep stripping massage alone or with eccentric resistance on hamstring length and strength. Journal of Bodywork Movement Therapies. From: www.bodyworkmovementtherapies.com/article/S1360-8592(13)00065-X/abstrac
- Franklin, N. (2014). Massage therapy resptores preipheral vascular function after exertion. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. From: www.archives-pmr.org/article/S0003-9993(14)00130-0/fulltext.
- Nunes, G., et al. (2016). Massage therapy decreases pain and perceived fatigue after long-distance Ironman triathlon: a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy. From: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955316000187.
- Blair, A. (2012). Massage therapy can help improve sleep. American Massage Therapy Association. From: https://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-Can-Help-Improve-Sleep.html
- Weerapong, P., et al. (2005). The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Journal of Sports Medicine. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Weerapong%20P%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=15730338.