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How Bodywork Can Help Athletes Year-Round

Rock climbing athlete

You’re an athlete.

You’re used to working hard, exhausting your body, and developing your mental stamina— as well as your physical stamina— year round. Even in the off-season, you don’t quit. You spend your downtime preparing for the next season, and getting faster, stronger, and better at what you do.

The idea of using bodywork to improve your sport might sound silly. How does relaxing and treating your body and mind to some manual therapy help you do better in your sport? The truth is, more and more professional sports teams are employing full-time massage therapists to work with their athletes. Why? It really does make you a better athlete.

So how exactly can a few bodywork sessions work to improve your game, or make you faster or stronger? There’s a lot that goes into it. Here are some reasons why you should consider adding regular bodywork into your training routine.

Improve Recovery After a Workout

Especially if you’re in the off-season and haven’t worked a particular muscle group in a while— even just a few days— you know that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can leave you feeling stiff, fatigued, and achy. DOMS affects your workouts over the following days; your muscles feel weaker and you can’t work quite as hard as you’d like.

Whether it’s after a tough race or while you’re training like crazy during the off-season, your body needs time to recover. DOMS is one of the ways your body handles the pressure of increased physical activity.

So how can you avoid the downsides of DOMS? Bodywork has been shown to reduce the pain and discomfort of DOMS by 30%. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Sciences showed that bodybuilders recovered more quickly after a hard workout when they followed up with a sports-focused bodywork treatment.

Think of it as an even more targeted session than the one you get with your foam roller for myofascial release. As you roll out your muscles, you actually increase your short-term flexibility for around 10 minutes. This means you’re able to crush your workout even more after a foam rolling session.

However, a foam roller can only do so much. You’re only targeting large muscle groups, and your roller can’t get very specific. This is where a massage therapist comes in.

A massage therapist can do so much more to relieve your DOMS, especially when the bodywork is performed by a pro who knows the specificity of myofascial release (that’s me!). DOMS can leave you feeling inflexible and achy. A targeted sports bodywork session when you’re experiencing the stiffness of DOMS will loosen things up so you don’t have to hold back quite so much during your workout.

Increase Your Range of Motion

Do you have stiffness or limited range of motion in your hips or shoulders? Working with a massage therapist can help loosen up these joints. Dancers particularly understand the importance of increasing mobility in their hip joints. If you’re training to be the next prima ballerina, know that you can work with a massage therapist to loosen some of these joints to provide you with a greater range of motion, better turnout, and a higher arabesque.

Not looking to perfect your pirouette? Maybe you’re a pitcher with a tight shoulder joint. Maybe your knees are particularly stiff and you want to spend some time with free weights, doing all the squats you can possibly muster to strengthen your legs. Schedule a few sessions with a qualified massage therapist who can help you work to increase this range of motion.

Relieve Stress and Anxiety

One of the main reasons to consider bodywork is that you feel great afterwards. So much of any sport is in your head. It can be very stressful. The mental game involved in running a marathon, the pressure of a post-season playoff game, the psychology of a singles tennis match can lead some athletes to experience anxiety surrounding their sport.

So what’s one simple thing you can do to relax? How about a soothing bodywork session, that leaves your body and mind feeling relaxed and ready to go? Alleviate some of your stress before a big game, race, or meet with bodywork.

Studies support the safety and effectiveness of manual therapy to reduce panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Regular bodywork can help the mental game of your sport - even in the off-season when you’re training nonstop and thinking about the upcoming season.

Prevent Injury

Another reason to schedule bodywork before your next practice, during off-season training, or before a big game? Bodywork can also help prevent injury, in multiple ways:

● Increased blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen traveling through muscles and joints, warming them up and reducing the risk of tears

● Improved muscle flexibility, which also lowers the risk of a tear or strain

● Deactivation of pain trigger points: Spots of pain or discomfort can cause even the most disciplined of athletes to favor one side or alter their technique, putting strain on other parts of their body, which can lead to injury.

Also, bodywork can decrease the time it takes for you to recover from an injury. If you’re a determined athlete who was taught to “play through the pain,” it can be tempting to return to your sport before you’ve completely healed, putting you at risk for even worse injury.

Getting bodywork while recovering from an injury increases the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to your injury. With good bodywork, your injury can actually heal faster than without. If you heal faster, you’re much less likely to re-injure yourself by trying to train or compete before your body is ready to take on the stress of activity.

Who Should Use Bodywork?

In short? Everyone! From dancers to rock climbers, cyclists, runners, swimmers, and all other athletes, everyone can use manual therapy to enhance training, even in the off-season. No matter the sport, your body is the tool you use to compete and to train, and sometimes it needs a little extra TLC from a trained professional to prepare for a big race, or to recover afterwards.

“But I’m not a professional athlete! Should I use bodywork to improve my sport?” you ask. The answer is an emphatic yes! If you have a passion for tennis and play frequently, or if you’re training for a marathon or triathlon, you know the amount of time you use your body during each training session. There’s so much wear and tear experienced during a long run or swim.

Bodywork is one of the best ways you can prepare for a race or game, recover afterwards, relieve stress, and improve your technique, regardless of whether or not you get paid to compete. If you’re passionate about your sport, care about your body, and want to improve your health, consider scheduling a bodywork treatment session this week! It’s a great way to take care of yourself, ensuring you can participate and compete in your sport for years to come.

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