Monday, June 27, 2011

After is Good, Before is Better

Massaging, steaming or applying sports rubs after a major sports event or intense physical activity is the best way, isn't it?  We’re programmed to think that way.  For example, this tweet came in my twitter feed this morning:  “Next time I do 1/2 marathon: 1) Locate #sports bra days in advance 2) Ditch heavy water bottle (plenty on route) 3) Schedule post-run #massage

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, essentially it’s like running your car into the ground and then servicing it after it breaks down.  And cursing all the way because it doesn’t handle well or give good fuel economy.  And possibly being late or missing your appointment due to a breakdown.

All exercise and strenuous physical activity requires good oxygenation of the blood and the efficient removal of waste material in the muscle.  When the muscles are as detoxed as possible and residual wastes excreted from the system before you start, the lactic acid build up (which hurts so much afterward) is slower and less.   The muscles work more effectively, giving that tiniest bit of extra competitive edge.  Maybe that’s not so important in your social golf round, but for a competitive triathlete, it’s imperative. When the circulation of blood is optimal, the blood carries the cellular wastes away from the muscle during the event or activity, thereby reducing aches and pains later.  Most importantly, a fatigued muscle is more prone to injury, so scheduling your massages, steams and rubs before also reduces the risk of injury.

The three most effective ways to prepare your body for your sports event or intense burst of physical activity (be that a night of dancing or schlepping boxes when moving house) are:
1.       A herbal steam.  30+ minutes sweating out toxins and then rehydrating thoroughly during and after the steam.  Doesn’t take long, it feel good and can be done the day or evening prior, so as to allow plenty of time for adequate rehydration.
2.       A massage.  Whether it’s a sports massage, lymphatic drainage, Thai massage or even just a very good oil massage, the process will encourage your body to release toxins.  Make sure you drink plenty of water afterwards, to assist the removal of wastes out of the body.
3.       A stimulating sports oil or rub.  If you don’t have access to a steam room or a masseur, you can still massage your major muscle groups yourself (thighs, gluts etc) with a stimulating rub or oil to encourage blood flow.  Be sure it is 100% natural, as using anything that contains mineral (white) oil, synthetic chemicals, petroleum products or artificial fragrances will actually impede toxin release and slow down the detox process.  A good plant-based natural herbal oil or beeswax balm will be easily absorbed into the body and carry the active ingredients from the essential oils to where they are needed.

By all means, schedule any or all of these for afterward too.  And enjoy aching less.  And better performance.   Taking care of your muscles before and after means your next post-event training session will be more effective too.  Or that you can happily kick on to the salsa dancing class after shifting sand in the garden all day. 

There is of course a fourth magic preparation for your muscles: sleep.  Our bodies detox, heal and repair best when we sleep, since it is only during certain parts of the sleep cycle that human growth hormone is produced.  We need that for tissue repair and building new muscle. 

So, think outside the box and step outside the regular mindset that only schedules the massage for after the event when you're already hurting.  Relish your physical activity, whatever it may be, and get the most from it. 


  1. Awesome article! I found out about pre fight massage doing Muay Thai and it just makes sense. Brilliant work Marike!

  2. Are people still going on about the lactic acid myth? Recent studies show that lactic acid is actually a fuel for muscles, not a by-product of muscular activity. It's presence is beneficial.

    Scientists do not know why muscle soreness occurs after hard exertion, but they do know that lactic acid isn't a waste product.

  3. Hey bigredpaul - interesting observation - maybe it would be helpful to others if you could post a helpful link or two about that? Regardless of why the muscle soreness occurs afterward, the point still remains that increased bloodflow, the removal of waste products and increased oxygenation for better cell performance WILL give enhanced performance, less soreness and a quicker return to optimal training. Thanks for being interested enough to engage - looking forward to your links.