We – and by ‘we’, I mean cyclists - all have our sore spots, likely brought on from many an hour spent in the saddle and tough sessions in the gym. Most of us will accept that sore spots come with the territory, and that the enjoyment received from indulging in our passion, far outweighs any niggling aches and pains.
But pounding out the miles, while at the same time ignoring your ever-niggling aches, is a recipe for disaster. Remember, every muscle in your body is connected. So, that ache in your lower back, when not dealt with, will soon spread – maybe leading to a miss-alignment of the hip, which in turn can then lead to a troublesome knee. Before you know it you could be side-lined and frustrated – something that no keen cyclist ever wants…
One way of helping to avoid the above, is through the use of massage.
Right, where to begin!? Massage offers a range of amazing benefits. But to make things easier, I’ll group them into four main categories. First up, the benefits of massage for your muscular system:
What I referred to earlier as aches is also given the more technical term: adhesions. Adhesions come about from repetitive stress injuries to our muscles over time.
As cyclists we are making the same movements over and over again, and this repeated stress inflicts damage on our muscles that needs to be repaired. But over time the constant repairing of our muscles leads to an over development of scar tissue. It is the scar tissue, when it hardens, that creates adhesions - resulting in reduced movement and circulation in our muscles.
A good masseuse will be able to identify your adhesions, and can work on these damaged areas, to help relieve any tightness or soreness.
Also, massage increases blood circulation, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which reduces muscle fatigue and soreness.
In fact, I read a recent study by the University of Illinois, Chicago, that suggested massage could improve overall cardiovascular health when off the bike too. Research that they undertook showed that massage not only improved circulation in the muscles that were put under stress, but the results showed that massage triggers a full body response to improved blood flow. Even more of a reason to get a rub down!
As I mentioned at the very beginning, everything in the body is connected. So those aches (often due to muscular imbalance) can lead to extra stress being placed on joints and bones – which thickens connective tissue, making your joints less mobile.
A good masseuse can identify the issues brought about from muscular imbalance, and so the resulting work you do to improve muscle tone, will help to reduce the physical stress being placed on your joints and bones.
In simple terms, a masseuse can help you reduce your chances of getting that dodgy knee, by helping you to reduce the amount of stress being placed on it.
Now we’re starting to veer off into some quite specialist scientific thinking! But in Layman’s terms when it comes to the nervous system, massage can:
· Stimulate sensory receptors, which can either stimulate or soothe the nerves depending on the massage techniques applied.
· Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and stress.
· Help to release endorphins, which are known to elevate the mood and so reduce any pain.
Closely linked to the nervous system, is the final category of massage benefits:
This is an area not to be overlooked. After a good massage - yes your body and your muscles will feel more relaxed - but so too will your mind. You’ll feel less stressed, less anxious and overall much better about yourself and all will feel good in life! Or maybe that’s just me!?
The psychological benefits of massage, I believe, are reason alone to have one. After I’ve had a massage I feel like a new man, and my motivation levels are so much higher, that I’m itching to get back to my training!
There really isn’t a catchall answer here. It very much comes down to personal preference, and your situation. General consensus however is that a monthly appointment with an experienced therapist will be extremely useful (If you are riding particularly hard, then perhaps fortnightly). We always like to think of a monthly appointment as a regular body check up, or body MOT if you like.
A body MOT will help to identify any areas of concern that need to be given attention. Remember, prevention is better than cure. It may sound strange, but it’s best to see a therapist BEFORE your body breaks down…
Also, don’t forget those psychological benefits that I briefly touched upon earlier. If a massage makes you feel great, and increases your motivation levels, then surely that’s reason enough to get one?
One thing to point out, if you’ve got a big race/event coming up, try to avoid having a deep tissue massage at least 3 days beforehand (We will be discussing the different types of massage in a future post, but thought it worth making reference to it now).
It’s probably clear by now that I, and the rest of the team at On the Rivet are big advocates of massage - It’s something that we offer on our retreats, along with a range of other relaxation therapies.
While a regular visit to the masseuse doesn’t need to be seen as an essential part of your cycling regime, hopefully I’ve shown you how it’ll help. If you’re anything like me and my cycling mates, then you’ll likely want to feel more like a pro rider and want to be always trying to improve your performance - massage helps me with both!
Before I go, I want to tell you about my favourite masseuse -
My foam roller! Any cyclist worth their salt will have one of these in their locker, they’re brilliant and well worth purchasing. Why? Well, in short, they aid recovery and help avoid injury.
The act of exercising contracts the muscles and even after static stretching muscles can be left feeling tight and sore. Foam rolling, like massage, helps to force out any knots and tight spots.
Below are a series of exercises you can carry out on your roller, so as to give yourself one of the best massages there is! For the best results you and the roller should be fairly warm, and make sure you're on a flat surface.
Starting with the calf muscles, roll up and down stopping on sore areas before moving and returning until comfortable.
Then work higher up the back of the thigh (hamstrings) and on the lower back.
Turn over and work the front of the thighs (quadriceps) and finish with the outer thighs.
Try and make rolling a part of your routine!