Self massage and fitness
By Judy Torel
No matter what form of exercise you engage in: walking, jogging, biking, swimming, weight lifting, yoga, pilates, hiking (you get the picture) you can benefit from self massage. After any fitness workout muscles can become knotted. Stretching will help to lengthen the muscle fibers, but is of limited use in displacing the knots. These knots, or fibrosis of the muscle tissue, can lead to pain, reduced performance and injury!
Research shows that in order for massage to be effective at breaking up muscle fibrosis, it should be performed a minimum of two times a week for at least 30 minutes. Professional athletes have a massage therapist on hand and receive a massage after every workout. Most fitness enthusiasts exercise enough to warrant needing massage post-workouts, yet do not have the luxury of a personal massage therapist on hand daily.
Self massage can improve your health, mood and athletic performance. It can be performed multiple times a day, if needed, without expense or scheduling hassles. It is simple to perform once you know a few basic strokes and have the right tools.
How it improves health
Massage improves the health of the human body in two ways: it strengthens the immune system and it increases circulation. It strengthens the immune system by helping the nervous system calm down from stress and reducing the production of the stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. In today’s society, humans have more psychological stress than the physical stress of primitive times when we had to run away from wild animals that were attacking us. Today, we get stressed over red lights when we are late and our bodies can’t release the stress hormones because we don’t get out of our car and run down the street. Instead sit there stewing in our own stress hormones. Chronic stress is correlated with increased appetite, weight gain, sleep disorders, loss of sex drive, increased blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, heart attacks, strokes, increased abdominal fat and diabetes, depression and anxiety and higher frequency of colds and the flu. Self massage decreases stress, thereby reducing the risk of the above mentioned disorders.
Self massage also increases circulation, which enhances the flow of oxygen and facilitates a supply of nutrients via the blood into all the cells of our body. When the muscles are knotted it is difficult for oxygen and nutrients to get into the areas of the muscles that most need them. Increased circulation also means enhanced elimination of the waste products produced by the working muscles. When waste products pool in muscles that have been exercised without a way to get out, delayed onset muscle soreness can result. This equates to pain and limited movement.
How it improves mood
Massage also helps improve mood. Humans crave what has come to be termed “safe touch”. Human touch helps reduce states of anxiety, depression and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. By elevating mood, self massage can also help a fitness enthusiast train more consistently
How it improves athletic performance
Self massage speeds recovery after workouts through the increase of circulation as mentioned above. It also reduces muscle soreness and pain by helping to break apart the fibrosis of the muscle tissue that was traumatized during a workout, which translates into improved fitness levels and athletic performance. It also allows for more effective training and more frequent workouts with less muscle discomfort.
Self massage also prevents injurs by stretching the muscle fibers not just lengthwise, but also across muscle fibers, which helps to prevent and break up the knots.
How do I perform self massage?
Self massage is very instinctual. Who hasn’t found themselves kneading a sore muscle without even thinking? There are a few different types of strokes: gliding, squeezing, pressing, rolling and drumming.
• Gliding involves a long smooth stroke over the target muscle group. You can vary the speed, length and pressure of the stroke by following your body’s feedback.
• Squeezing involves using your fingers to grasp the muscle through the skin and squeezing it. You can use a pulsing-type rhythm for a gentle or more intense holding squeeze.
• Pressing involves taking a few fingers and applying direct pressure into a knot. You can vary the intensity by applying gentle or more intense pressure.
• Rolling involves a movement similar to kneading bread.
• Drumming involves percussion-type massage. This could be using the sides of your hands and hitting a knotted area with a high frequency karate–chop like movement.
There are many wonderful massage props that are available to enhance self massage. One of my personal favorites is The Stick. It is a two-foot plastic tool that has several free moving cells along its length. The rod is flexible and molds to your body contours, allowing you to apply pressure where needed.
Foam rollers are larger styrofoam rolls that you can lie over in a variety of positions, using your body weight and gravity to apply a massage pressure over a larger surface area. You can roll on the roller to break up fibrosis and massage large muscles more effectively this way.
Finally, a plain and simple tennis ball can be used on the bottom of your feet to help reduce arch pain caused by knotting and traumatized muscles and tendons. Simply roll your foot over the ball until you find “hot spots” and then put additional pressure on these spots to help break up the fibrosing.
Judy Torel is a therapist/personal trainer with a Master’s degree in psychology. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a fitness trainer and works out of Planet Fitness and Deb's Sweat Shop Extension. She can be reached at JTOREL2263@yahoo.com