For those of you who have been treated by a professional massage therapist, you know how wonderful it is, and for those of you who haven’t I’m hoping to convince you to give it a try, or at least consider self-massage as an alternative.
Your body has already made many adaptations to the demands you put upon it. You’ve increased stamina and muscle strength because you applied the proper challenge to your body, and then given your muscles proper time to recover. But when you train, you create a waste product in your muscle cells called lactic acid. Lactic acid build-up contributes to the soreness you might feel the next day, because when lactic sits in muscle tissue it causes damage, and continues to do so until your blood stream carries it away. It’s sort of like leaving open bags of garbage in your kitchen; it just causes a mess.
The more fit you are, the quicker the blood stream carries the lactic acid away, and the less likely you are to get sore from moderate exercise. This is one reason why you can exercise longer and still feel good when you are more fit. The quicker you can flush out lactic acid from your muscles, the less likely you are to have muscle soreness, and the quicker you are likely to recover from strenuous exercise.
This is where massage comes in to play. Deep rubbing forces lactic acid out of the muscle tissue and into the blood stream, and helps speed recovery from exercise. It also helps increase flexibility, and loosens any knots and adhesions that may have developed in your muscles. This in turn will help prevent injury and improve athletic performance. It also helps keep you relaxed, which further helps you stay loose and flexible.
For those of you who have never had a massage, here’s what happens: the therapist will first ask you about any physical problems you have, and what you’ve been doing with your body. The therapist will then leave the room, and you will disrobe and lay on a special padded massage table, with a sheet covering you. The therapist will re-enter, and will perform the massage, moving the sheet as necessary in order to access different parts of your body, but also while maintaining strict professionalism and discretion.
Like any kind of physical treatment, and like exercise itself, it takes a while for the benefits of massage to become obvious, and it is something that needs to be performed regularly if you’re going to keep those benefits. Aim to go every two to three weeks, or at least once a month; you can go more often if you can afford it.
Expect to pay somewhere from $45 to $75 for a one-hour massage. If that sounds like a lot, consider that it’s really no more than what you would pay for one or two dinners out. It’s just a matter of getting used to the idea (and budgeting for it).
Self-massage can also be effective. You should put the body part you are focusing on in a comfortable, relaxed position. Then knead and rub the muscle deeply, stroking towards your heart. You will likely want to focus mostly on your legs. Look in your local health foods store for oils that you can use to make this more comfortable, or, in a pinch, you can use body lotion. Warm the oil or lotion on your palms before rubbing on your legs; nothing ruins a nice massage like the shock of cold hands.
And after your massage has ended, try to0 avouid strenuous acticvity, since that would tense up the muscles again and create a state of stress. If you’ve been training hard, post-massage quiet time should be part of your reward. Enjoy!