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When is the Best Time to Have a Pre-Race Massage?

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Rob Murray

Rob is a self confessed running geek, obsessed with all things related to the sport, whether road, track or triathlon.
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Ahhhhhhh, the sports massage. Loved by runners across the globe to relieve muscles after a tough workout and also in preparation for big races. But how long should you leave it before or after your activity to jump on to the massage table? A little research has uncovered some common themes from the insight shared by top therapists and coaches:

  • Don’t have your first pre-race massage just before a big race
  • It’s best to have a regular massage, and to then have your last one around five days before race-day.
  • There are lots of different types of massage see below), so ensure you get the right treatment for your needs.

Different Types of Massage For Runners

Active Release (A.R.T) Massage

Active Release Technique, (A.R.T), is a massage technique that combines movement with highly targeted, deep pressure to help relieve muscles and scar build up.

During an A.R.T massage, the therapist uses his or her hands to check the texture, tightness and mobility of the soft tissue and then works to break up these adhesions with their hands, as well as movement of the muscle.

Swedish Massage (Effleurage)

Swedish massage is perhaps the most well known of the common massage methods and is associated more with relaxation and spa days, than running. However, Swedish massage can also benefit runners, especially before big competitions.

Swedish massage utilizes long, flowing strokes of various pressure, although usually light, to release muscle tension and increase blood flow.

Swedish massage is best used in the days before big competitions or as a recovery tool after hard workouts. The lighter, relaxing strokes help relieve stress and muscle tension without damaging the muscles, which is important if you have a big race on the horizon. A Swedish massage before a race, especially if you’re coming off a hard week of training, can help you reenergize, relax, and get your legs back under you.

Trigger Point Massage

Trigger point therapy is a massage type that targets knots and specific areas of pain in the muscle tissue. Therapists find knots in the muscles and use deep pressure to help loosen them up and so is best when you have a specific niggle or injury that you want to neutralise or minimise before a race.

Like A.R.T., trigger point therapy is best used to treat injuries, rather than in anticipating activity. Specifically, trigger point therapy is effective in the treatment of IT band tightness, calf strains, and hamstring injuries.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage targets both the superficial and deep layers of muscles and fascia and are often quite intense as a result of the deliberate, focused work. Because they go deep, these massages should only be taken on advice from an expert prior to a race.

Deep tissue massages typically focus on a few specific problem areas and, unlike trigger point therapy, work the entire muscle.

Coach Jeff of the Runners Connect website suggests:

If you plan on getting a massage before your next big race, schedule it at least 3-5 days from the race. If it’s been a while since your last massage, stick to further out. Also note that the deeper the massage, the longer it takes for the body to recover and respond – just like running workouts. Coach Jeff, 2:22 Marathoner and running coach.

Whereas massage therapist Anna Gammal suggests leaving it even longer – up to six days before a race:

Five to six days before your race, you can get a deep tissue massage—only if you’ve been getting massages all along during training.” (That would be you.) Or, she says, you can pop in for a pre-race massage without having been a regular as long as you know your therapist and your therapist knows your body. Every athlete’s body responds differently to massage; you don’t want to find out the week before your race that deep tissue work makes you uncomfortably sore.  Anna Gammal, massage therapist

Says massage therapist Mary Owen on deep tissue massages specifically:

Ideally, athletes should get a tough, deep tissue massage three days to a week before a race or big event,” Owen said. “And another massage the day before or morning of the race—but this one should be focused on stretching and isometric approaches, which concentrate on breathing and relaxing while the therapist massages and stretches you,”  Mary Owen, massage therapist with a concentration in sports therapy and myofascial release.

Author: Rob Murray

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