Athletes provide inspiration and entertainment to audiences all over the world. Millions tuned in to watch Usain Bolt dominate the 100-metres and win gold, and that moment will go down in history as an astonishing achievement of human performance.
But, what we usually see of athletes is the end result of a gruelling, intense and strenuous period of training, an ordeal they put themselves through to give themselves the greatest chance of success. Crowds were ecstatic during the 9.69 seconds that it took Usain Bolt to race down the track, but they don’t witness the stress he puts his body under for months on end.
Becoming an athlete requires committing yourself to a particular sport and pushing yourself mentally, physically and emotionally on a daily basis. An athlete must be willing to put everything on the line in the pursuit of excellence and the glory of a gold medal.
So, how do top performance athletes manage to stay on top of their game and avoid injury?
Well, for many years now, those at the pinnacle of their sport have been relying on sports massage to help keep themselves in tip-top condition. For most athletes around the world, sports massage is a near daily part of their training regime, and more evidence is emerging to show its benefits.
As the competition in high level sports increases and feats of athleticism reach ever more dizzying heights, it is the athlete that manages to avoid injury that is king. That is where both the psychological and physical benefits of sports massage play their part.
PAIN AND TENSION
The first and most obvious benefit of sports massage therapy is relief of pain and tension in muscles. After hard training several times per week, muscles throughout the body experience fatigue and soreness, both things which can prevent an athlete from getting the most out of their body. Anyone who has experienced sports massage knows how much better they feel after even a short session.
Massage works by stimulating the nervous system through nerve endings in our skin and connective tissue (bones, ligaments, tendons. These tissues are full of nerve endings sending signals to the brain all the time, and sports massage provides a uniquely novel stimulus. When the body is worn down after heavy training and muscles are fatigued, the experience of sports massage can stimulate the brain to reduce pain and tension. A reduction in pain and tension is often enough to help an athlete recover faster, ready for their next training session or competition.
Sports massage can also be used to help improve flexibility and proprioception – our sensation of where our body is in space and time. Both are pivotal in sport, and by improving these sports massage can have great effects of athletic performance.
STRESS AND ANXIETY
Sometimes though, it’s not the physical side of things that prevents an athlete from fulfilling their potential. A gruelling training regime can be even more taxing on the mind than it is on the body. After endless days of training, motivation, drive and clarity of thought can all start to ebb away – and understandably too.
Studies have revealed that sports massage therapy promote a reduction in stress and anxiety – and has even been shown to be effective in treating depression. When stressors build up, this can take a toll on the body and increase the risk of overtraining and seriously impede results. The anxieties of a big competition can also hamper results if not dealt with effectively, and any athlete will understand this and will have strategies put in place to deal with it. More and more are starting to rely on sports massage for just that reason.
Sports massage helps athletes stay physically and mentally fresh, build resilience and train more frequently – while reducing the dreaded risk of injury and recurring pain. But if you don’t believe me (and let’s face it, I might be biased) here’s what one elite cyclist has to say about it:
“…the half hour on the massage table is where I was able to cast off my demons, talk through the tough times, plan my tactics for the next day, work on my kidology and actually develop my focus, my social support and therefore DEVELOP my resilience. Massage uniquely combines the power of touch with individualised sports psychology, there is no time during a competition where the athlete feels so at peace, yet strangely empowered and motivated, than on that massage table.”