A Good Rub
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A Good Rub

A Good Rub

by Lance Carter-Rodolph

Massage therapy plays an essential role in maintaining health for athletes. Runners should receive massage regularly as part of a balanced training program that also includes proper training, stretching and nutrition. Integrating massage into your training routine will improve your body's natural ability to recover, help with injury prevention and improve athletic performance. Plus, it just feels good!

John Duquette, a sub-10 hour Ironman triathlete is a firm believer in the importance of massage. "Massage is an integral part of my training plan. During the season when I am racing hard, often several times a month, I depend on massage to help my body recover quickly."

As a runner you continually stress your muscles often causing micro-tears within the muscle fibers as well as a build-up of waste products. Your muscles need oxygen to function properly and efficiently, nutrients such as amino acids to repair damaged muscle fibers and lymphatic fluid to carry waste products away from the muscles. Oxygen, nutrients, and lymphatic fluid are transported through your body via the blood stream. Massage markedly increases your body's recovery rate by increasing blood flow within your circulatory system so oxygen arrives faster, amino acids are delivered more quickly and the waste products get moved rapidly away from the muscles.

Injury Prevention
Runners' muscles are contracted in a relatively shortened range of motion for long periods of time. These "tight" muscles cause extra strain to be placed on tendons and may result in common injuries like Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Illiotibial (IT) Band Syndrome, and Shin Splints. Adhesions that are formed within the fascia (connective tissue) surrounding muscle fibers can also cause tightness. Massage breaks up adhesions as well as broadens and lengthens muscle fibers. Freeing up fascia in and around muscles and creating length within muscles helps prevent injury because it reduces the strain placed upon tendons.

Improved Performance
Staying healthy and preventing injury lead to improved athletic performance. Increasing range of motion in the hip, knee, and ankle joints by releasing and lengthening leg muscles through massage can increase stride length, which will, in turn, increase running speed and thus improve performance. Whether you run for stress relief, pure enjoyment or in competition, massage can be extremely beneficial and will improve athletic performance.

Another benefit of receiving massage is relaxation. By simply putting the body in a highly relaxed state, the body begins to repair itself. Self-massage requires you to be active and thus you miss out on this added benefit of relaxation. Nevertheless, self-massage can be very effective, especially at the onset of an injury. Massage tools make self-massage much easier. The following is a list of effective self-massage techniques. You could easily combine all of these techniques together and create a post-run routine. Do each exercise for a couple of minutes.

  • Plantar Fascia
    Located on the bottom of the foot, tight fascia can lead to a very sharp pain felt at the base of the heel known as Plantar Fasciitis. Use a frozen water bottle to perform an ice massage for this area. Alternatively, use a golf ball to help break up scar tissue that has formed within the fascia. With both of these techniques, place the frozen water bottle or golf ball on the floor and roll the bottom side of your foot back and forth over the massage tool.

  • Calves, IT Band, Quadriceps, and Hamstring
    "The Stick" is very helpful in massaging these areas. I have a recurring Achilles Tendonitis injury that creeps up on me when I incorporate speed work into my training. I have found that a few minutes of using The Stick on my calves before and after my training runs keeps the problem from getting serious.

  • Gluteal Muscle
    The IT Band, which is a common injury among runners, is actually the tendonous insertion of the gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscles. Unlike other tendons, the IT Band is extremely long as it extends from your hip to knee. When the muscles are strained and shortened they place extra tension along the IT Band. Releasing these muscles reduces the tension along the IT Band. Another gluteal muscle that can cause runners excruciating pain is the piriformis muscle. When this muscle becomes overly contracted it can compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain to shoot down through the butt and leg.

    Use a tennis ball to massage and release your gluteal muscles. Sit on the floor and place a tennis ball under your gluteus maximus. Use your arms to control your body weight and the amount of pressure you find to be most beneficial. Move your hips around over the tennis ball.

    Recently I recommended this technique to Kerry Ruth, Team in Training participant, who said, "In dealing with herniated disks in the low back region, much of my pain protrudes into my glutes and eventually into my legs. In the absence of massage, I have found that placing a tennis ball under my glutes relieves the intensity of the pain."

About the author: Lance Carter-Rodolph lives in the Pacific Northwest where he is opening a running store, Everyday Athlete, in Kirkland, Washington. Lance is also a massage therapist and coach for Team in Training. He has completed 4 Ironman distance triathlons (PR 10:18) and several marathons (PR 3:09).

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