Can massage really help you build muscle and get you to your goals quicker?
A week into the New Year and the first week of that new training programme. Are you feeling sore? Does every muscles and sinew ache? You might even feel like you've been hit by a freight train!
The chest is tight. You're back is tight. Even your arms shake as you try to hold a pen and make those notes in that important meeting at work.
Your colleagues are looking at you, not as the picture of health and fitness you thought you'd be, but battered and broken like someone 50 years your senior.
And as for the two days after leg day... Well let's just say you probably weren't alone in struggling to get on and off the toilet for those two mornings.
These feelings and sensations are totally normal, especially if heavy weight lifting like I recommend in my Aesthetics Through Strength programme is new to you. Even I still get tight and sore after a tough workout. It comes with the territory and it's almost like a badge of honour. A sign that you put the work in. That you battled through those last few reps when your body was screaming at you to stop.
Now's the time you need to think about recovery. Nutrition, rest and good sleep are all necessary elements of recovery. And you can take this a step further with regular sports massages.
In this article I'm going to take you through 4 benefits of massage and how it can help your training and actually get you to your goals that bit quicker.
Results, quicker? Sounds awesome right? Let's go...
But before we get right into the meat and potatoes of this thing, I need to explain to you what I mean by massage. We're talking proper sports massage here. This HURTS! If you've got in your mind that it's going to be all dimmed lighting, scented candles, and a relaxing gentle prod around your body, think again. This is elbows, fists, and forearms being driven into the muscles with long, sometimes agonising stroking movements. All those knots and tight muscles need to be mobilised with a bit of force, so you better brace yourself.
If that doesn't send you running for the hills and you're still with me at this point, read (and watch) on...
Range of motion is key in all aspects of weight training. Whether you're going 'ass too grass' with your squats, deadlifting 200kg, or trying to out-lift your training partner on International Chest Day, all of these movements require flexibility to extract the maximum benefit.
Heavy weight lifting is going to put your muscles under tension. It's both unavoidable and also what you're trying to achieve (we'll cover Time Under Tension in a future blog). If left alone or ignored this tension accumulates over time and isn't given the time to fully dissipate.
The reduction in overall flexibility that results from this increases your chance of injury. A lack of flexibility in the back and hips for example, may be putting you in danger during a squatting movement without you realising it until it's too late.
And even if you haven't got tension all over the body, don't ignore it. Tension in one muscle group can have a knock on impact elsewhere in your body. Let me explain a bit more.
Let's assume for a second that you LOVE bench pressing. It's your favourite workout of the week. When your training partner asks you what's on the gym menu for the day, you instantly text back,
You - "Chest Day my friend".
Training Buddy - "But didn't we do chest two days ago?"
You - "Every day is chest day. Now get your ass to the gym!"
So you're pounding out those presses, strength is increasing week on week and your pecs look amazing.
But, you've been neglecting your back. Your chest muscles are in an almost permanent state of tension and your back muscles are under developed in comparison. What you're doing here is creating a muscle imbalance that will result (if it hasn't already) in a hunched over posture. Have a scan around the gym next time you're there and see just how many people this applies to. I'd be willing to bet it's quite a few!
Massage helps to decrease the tension in the muscles (although a chest massage man be a little weird so don't expect that when you go...hahaha)
The message here is to use the massage as a means to stay supple and flexible. It'll prevent injury and maximise your range of motion across all lifts.
#2. Reduce Pain
From time to time we all get little niggles and areas of pain when we're working out on a regular basis. Your experience is no different to anyone else's. I'm sure even Arnold Schwarzenegger, the king of bodybuilding, has had his fair share of injuries, despite being vastly experienced.
From my own ups and downs with this lifestyle, I've been through my fair share (and more) of pain. Leg pressing while recovering from a broken hip is neither fun, pleasant, or pain free, I can tell you that much!
Ultimately, pain will hold you back. It's human nature to be psychologically affected by some form of pain when you're in the gym.
Think back to a time when you felt some pain before you set foot on the gym floor to nail that workout...
Did you end up smashing that workout as hard as you possibly could? Or did you hold back on maxing out the weights and back off those last couple of reps? Did you finish the set with a wince of pain and a feeling of discomfort?
Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. A good sports massage can be a great addition to any treatment of muscular pain.
And even if it's just the DOMs setting in, it will certainly help with that too.
#3. Increased Circulation
Your goal when increasing lean muscle mass is to create micro-tears in the muscle fascia tissue, which subsequently get repaired and strengthened by the body. Over time this leads to increased muscle mass and the muscular look you desire.
The aim should be to accelerate this repair and growth process so that you recover quick and can hit that muscle group again having given it the time to completely recover.
Nutrition and circulation are key in this process. Good nutrition can never be underestimated. Your body needs the nutrients to fuel the process. We won't dive into that now, but download my free ebook here for more in-depth information on the subject.
It's important that the nutrients get to the muscles as fast as possible, so adopting ways of improving blood flow will enhance your circulation and overall performance. Massage is proven to increase blood flow so it's entirely logical that it can support the recovery process.
Improving your circulation is going to significantly improve the removal of waste from these areas at the same time as improving the delivery of nutrients and oxygen.
Also, those tight muscles we spoke of in point 1 come in to play here as well. Tight muscles will work against blood flow. In effect they will make your recovery slower. Not ideal when you want to get back in the gym ASAP.
The key point to remember here is that the adaptations to your training inputs are made during the recovery process. The opportunity for gains are made in the gym, but they become a reality with rest and nutrition. Circulation and blood flow are an integral part of that.
#4. Reduced Tension and Better Sleep
In point 3 we established that recovery is a critical part of your progress. Hitting the gym more and more and pounding your body into submission will only get you so far, before you eventually break. You'll either succumb to the symptoms of over training or end up with some form of injury. Either way, you will have minimised your growth potential along the way and likely to end up needing to take a rest from it all to recover.
Getting good quality sleep is a crucial part of the recovery process. If your nutrition plan is set up correctly, you'll be consuming a form of slow release protein before you go to bed, so that your body has the amino acids it needs to repair muscle tissue while you sleep.
On top of that a long, unbroken sleep (roughly 7.5-8 hours is ideal for athletes and active types) means that you're not affected by all the negative aspects that come with sleep deprivation, of which there are many. Here a just two that are particularly relevant to you:
- Reduced fat loss. If your aim is to decrease your body fat percentage then don't overlook a good night's sleep as part of the process.
- Decreased testosterone and growth hormone. If you want to increase lean muscle mass you need your body working with you, not against you. Sleep deprivation can lead to muscle atrophy (wasting away).
If sleep is important for fat loss and muscle grow, how does massage help?
Good question. Massage has been proven to increase the body's production of serotonin, which is converted by the brain into the sleep hormone, melatonin. As you age your body gets a bit crap at producing melatonin, so it needs all the help it can get.
Therefore, if massage helps increase serotonin then your giving yourself every chance of getting that long sleep you desperately need when your head hits the pillow.
Aside from the chemistry, a massage relaxes you and releases tension from your muscles. It might not feel that what during the hour you're getting pummelled, but trust me you'll get off that massage table with a spring in your step. And when you get home you'll feel nice and chilled.
Think of it as a high performance car engine that's been running without oil. It's been clanging and banging and performing like a dog for days. Put some high quality oil in it and give it the once over and it'll be purring like a wild cat in no time.
A good massage is your engine oil. Make sure your engine is performing at it's best!
There you have it guys, 4 benefits to getting a massage on a regular basis. I got my today, when are you getting yours?
If you're in the Rugby, UK area I'd highly recommend Claire @ Fit2Burst. www.fit2burst.co.uk
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I usually sign off with happy training at this point. Today it's going to be slightly different.