Since I started cycling, I found that part of the joy of the sport is being able to truly make the most of a sunny day – nothing makes you appreciate a warm breeze quite like the memory of unexpected downpours and frozen toes – spontaneously turning a commute into training and a Sunday coffee morning into a social spin. But for those of you with events looming it can be tempting to throw yourself deep into your training programme as soon as we get some good weather and it is easy to tip over into a state of over-training.
Days off and good quality sleep are essential, but proper stretching, yoga, and sports massage can all play an important role in your recovery. We all know that recovery is crucial to sports performance (and health!), but it can be so hard to sacrifice a day on the bike when the sun is out. If you feel you might be overdoing it a little, a sports massage can be the kick-start to recovery you need, to get you back on the bike – and in the sun – that bit quicker!
The most immediate benefit of deep tissue massage is improved blood flow; your muscles will feel warmer, and your skin will turn light pink as blood rushes to the area, bringing oxygen and nutrients, and carrying away waste products. Encouraging your body’s natural repair processes in this way can accelerate recovery, getting you back on the bike sooner and feeling fresher. Some parts of the body typically don’t get much circulation – the Achilles tendon is a classic example – so stimulating blood flow through the area can drastically reduce stiffness built up from training, which might, in turn, reduce the likelihood of injury.
As cyclists, we can spend hours every week crouched over in the same position – with our hip flexors shortened and our shoulders rounded, our hamstrings never fully stretching out – yet rarely will we spend more than a few minutes each day stretching and lengthening these areas. When we do get around to it, we often find them too uncomfortable to stretch properly. Tight hamstrings and glutes create painful tension in the lower back, while a tight chest pulls the shoulders forward, tightening the neck and upper back, stopping the lungs from expanding completely. Over time, either of these can start to alter your posture and your movements, making it harder to engage the right muscles at the right times – like that extra big push to clear a hill crest. As well as impeding your cycling performance, long-term changes in posture can overload the spine, which can result in serious injuries. Massage can encourage these muscles to release their tension, relieving discomfort, reducing chances of injury and niggles linked to muscular imbalance, and allow you to perform your stretches or yoga effectively and safely.
A good night’s sleep and a regular rest day are great, but if you’re not able to fully relax in your time off the bike you might find yourself feeling an increasingly ragged week after week. Massage not only helps your muscles relax and engage their repair processes, but many people find they sleep better after a massage (and some even fall asleep on the massage table…!). You put a lot of effort into your training, so if you’re taking time out of the saddle, you might as well be getting the most out of it!
While new PBs may be achieved whilst on the bike, it’s off the bike that your muscles rebuild, a little stronger each time, provided they’re given the right stimulus (training at the right intensity) and adequate time to recover. The hamstrings, for example, are key to efficient pedalling, but many of us struggle to engage them. As they are asked to work harder, the hamstrings get tighter and shorter, making it even harder to use their full power – and so on in a vicious circle. Regular massage can release and lengthen these muscles, helping them activate and ultimately giving you more power and strength on the bike.
Early injury prevention
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, accidents and niggles can and will still happen. Your massage therapist might be able to spot early signs of injury and refer you to a physiotherapist or osteopath for a diagnostic assessment if needed. If you get regular massage, your therapist might also be able to tell when your muscles are abnormally tight and might need a change of routine. No two sports massages need be the same, so don’t hesitate to ask your massage therapist to focus on a particular spot, or avoid an area if it is particularly tender from training or injury. If you listen to your body, more often than not it will tell you what it needs!