Regardless of experience, skill or technique, cyclists of all walks of life are fast learning the benefits of a professional sports massage; using it as an aid for a fast recovery, prevention of injury or even performance enhancement.
It has long been known and accepted that massage therapy can help to reduce anxiety, tension and pain, however a good massage can be more than just an aid for relaxation. For many cyclists today, massage therapy is a key component of their training regime and not just the ones riding an elite level. Enhancing ones performance is an obsession not just for the professionals.
Anyone who is or has been involved in cycling can appreciate the demands which a rider can be put under. With such prolonged and targeted physical stress, the effects of a good ride can be felt long after the adrenaline wears off. The leg muscles evidently carry the greatest burden, yet many of the other muscle groups also suffer, particularly those used in maintaining an effective posture.
For many people, leaving your body to recover in sufficient time after a day’s ride is simply not feasible. Typically cyclists are back in the saddle the very next day and perhaps even the day after that too, leaving no time for the body to recover. The results of such a repetitive and rigorous routine, range from fatigue to even muscle tissue damage. Awareness of such facts has seen many cyclists turning to massage therapy and see it as an important component of their recovery strategy.
In order to understand the benefits of such therapy, it is important to consider how the body responds. In short, massage therapy brings about two types of responses from the body:
Mechanical responses - a result of pressure and movement as the soft tissue is manipulated.
Reflex responses - in which the nerves respond to stimulation.
These responses bring about physiological effects primarily on the muscular, skeletal, nervous and cardiovascular systems; not to mention the recognised effects already associated with feelings of relaxation.
Effects on the Muscular System
- Relieves tightness, spasms and restrictions in muscle tissue.
- Increases flexibility in the muscles as it promotes relaxation.
- Increases blood circulation, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the muscle which reduces muscle fatigue and soreness.
- Promotes the removal of waste products from the muscle.
Effects on the Skeletal System
- Increase joint mobility by releasing restrictions in the fascia, and by reducing the thickening of the connective tissue.
- Helps to decrease muscular inflammation, break down scar tissue and free adhesions.
- Improves muscle tone and helps to address issues relating to muscular imbalance, reducing the physical stress placed on joints and bones.
Effects on the nervous system
- Stimulates sensory receptors, which can either stimulate or soothe the nerves depending on the techniques utilised.
- Promotes relaxation and stress reduction by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Helps to reduce pain by the release of endorphins which are known to elevate the mood.
- Helps to promote feelings of well-being and enhance self-esteem.
- Helps to reduce levels of stress and anxiety by relaxing both the body and mind.
Cycling is a physically demanding activity which is often repeated on a daily basis. In a period of training in particular, one could be cycling four or five times in a week; the risk of injury is very real.
Physical activity of this nature prevents the development of an ‘all round’ body fitness required for consistent performance and to help prevent injury. As a consequence many riders suffer from afflictions brought on by poorly fitted equipment (such as an incorrectly set up bike), or even the training regime undertaken by the rider themselves. Therefor capitalising on the specialist knowledge of an experienced strength and conditioning coach and utilising the benefits of a good sports massage should be given serious consideration by anyone who is serious about cycling.
Why Sports Massage?
There are of course many popular types of massage therapies to choose from and although the benefits of a massage are clear, what should be clarified at this point are the specifics of a ‘sport massage’ and why it is becoming increasingly popular with the cycling elite. In essence a sports massage is an invigorating experience where the goal is to prepare, treat and maintain the athlete. A sports massage therapist should be well versed when it comes to treating common injuries and muscular problems with cyclists and can identify areas of muscle tightness or abnormalities, which could lead to injury. While a deep tissue massage (another popular type of massage therapy) can identify areas of muscle weakness, the therapist might not be targeting sport specific injuries which a sports therapist would.
The techniques applied to cyclists, following consultation and examination, may combine general and deep tissue manipulation with various forms of stretching techniques to improve muscle health and performance. Some specific methods commonly utilized are Swedish strokes, compressions, cross-fibre friction, myofascial release therapy and specific stretching. Post activity massage specifically helps to reduce inflammation, eliminate toxins in muscles and remove adhesions, facilitating in a faster recovery.
In more specific terms, when cycling the posture assumed in the upper body is very flexed, potentially leading to long weak upper back muscles and a tightening of the chest muscles. Working across the chest, upper back, neck and shoulder areas can help alleviate this. The hamstrings are rarely fully lengthened during cycling causing them to ‘shorten’ slightly, which often manifests itself as lower back problems. The deep stretching techniques applied by a sports massage therapist can help alleviate this issue. A major problem many cyclists face is that their bike has been set up incorrectly causing numerous problems. The repetitive nature of cycling on a poorly fitted bike can lead to overuse injuries as well as placing undue stress through the knee, hip, shoulder, and wrist, joints.
In essence sports massage administered by a well-qualified and experienced masseuse will help overcome injury, help to eliminate dysfunction and promote recovery in ways that rest and nutrition alone cannot.