Any cyclist knows that once you get on the bike, your body is at work for extended time periods. Every muscle is activated, but your legs, which do all of the sprinting and climbing, bear most of the burden. (Trust me, I’ve been there – read my story about biking across the whole of Iowa in one week!)
Cyclists are often on the bike for most of the week, with maybe one or two days off in between. Both pro cyclers and hobbyists alike know that there is no luxury time in between rides to allow your muscles adequate healing time. That’s why many pro cyclists have close relationships with massage therapists, and why at every big race, you’ll find more than a handful of massage therapists on hand to help cyclists cool down afterwards.
Massage has been shown to reduce inflammation, help increase circulation to areas being worked on, and improve healing time. Sports massage is especially helpful for athletes who may have residual injuries, or who don’t necessarily get to rest in between bouts of exercise. Here are the ways massage therapy specifically works to help cyclists.
Before getting on the bike, it’s great to gently massage your muscles and tendons to avoid a cold start, and to make on-bike warm-up time more efficient. Just a ten-minute start with muscles and tendons helps to improve circulation to tendons and ligaments, break up muscle adhesions, and improve freedom of movement and flexibility. It’ll make the beginning of your ride go that much more smoothly.
Working with a massage therapist is a great way to reduce the impact of repetitive stress injuries, or RSIs. RSIs cause tears and adhesions, and when these same areas repair themselves over and over again, scar tissue forms. Scar tissue hardens, hindering circulation and motion, and is less flexible than healthy tissue. Massage therapists work to break down adhesions and scar tissue to return muscles, tendons, and ligaments to their ideal state of plasticity and smoothness.
Cyclists often experience cramps and soreness after a ride, especially in the quads. Climbing steep terrain causes strains these muscles, as well as the knees. The upper back and shoulders might also require extra attention, especially if you find yourself bracing against a windy day. Let your massage therapist know if you need to focus more on any muscle group.
The best type of massage for cyclists is deep tissue massage. This massage is recommended for individuals involved in heavy physical activity. Deep tissue massage relieves tension deep in the muscles, below the first layer of tissue. It can be used to treat specific problem areas, like accumulated scar tissue or poorly healed injuries.
Because it is so far reaching, deep tissue massage may cause muscle ache for the next few days, so it is not the best massage for cyclists to get immediately before a big race.
If you are planning on getting a massage right before a race, it’s better to get a Swedish massage, which is not as far reaching as deep tissue massage. Swedish massage works with surface areas in kneading motions or pushing motions.
Many cyclists use foam rollers to help with myofascial release. This is a fantastic practice, and works even better when combined with professional bodywork. Correct foam roller usage combined with regular bodywork can help keep the fascia lithe and flexible. While it is great to do myofascial release on your own, massage therapists can offer more precision and controlled feedback than a foam roller can, and can help correct any damage caused by using a roller incorrectly.
During training, wait to get a massage during off weeks, or on a day that you won’t be riding (for many of you, this will be on a Monday). You don’t want to get a full massage immediately before getting on the bike because you may experience residual soreness.
Before a race, get a massage about a week before you will be riding, or close enough to the actual racing date that you can feel the results of the massage but far enough away that you will not experience muscle tenderness while you are on your bike.
If you have at least a week’s time before your race, get a deep tissue massage, and let your muscles relax in the days leading up to the ride. However, if you have only a short period of time – say, 48 hours – to prepare for the race, try the less intensive Swedish massage.
Now that you know about all the good massage can do for you (and all the bad it can prevent), think about scheduling a massage session before your next big ride.