Tips to get the most from a massage

how to get the most out of massage

After you’ve put in some serious saddle time, it’s time to enjoy some hardcore recovery, which for many cyclists includes massage therapy. Not only does a massage help accelerate recovery and decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, but it also alleviates the pain and tension that can result in poor performance or injury (among many other things!). Believe it or not, you’re in control of many of the factors that determine if you’ll enjoy— and receive the maximum benefit— from a massage.  Follow these tips to ensure you get the most out of your table time.

Choose the best place for your needs

It would be a generalization to say that a great massage is only found at private clinics for a premium price. But it’s important to consider that at places like the big chains, therapists often work long hours for little pay. It’s not that you can’t find a great therapist at a chain, but the good ones are often booked months in advance and there’s generally a high turnover rate for these jobs, often making it difficult to book a therapist you like for the longrun.

Pick the best massage therapist for you

Swedish, Shiatshu, hot stone… What the heck is all of this, I just want a massage, you might say. Therapists all have different specialities and not all states even require therapists to know the same modalities. If you were to have five different therapists give a “deep tissue” or “sports” massage, chances are no two would feel the same. This is why I recommend people shop for compatible therapists, not necessarily modalities. A good massage therapist can take your unique needs into consideration and uses the tools they have to create a session that specifically addresses your needs.

In general, a Swedish massage is lighter with longer strokes and a relaxation focus, whereas myofascial (aka deep tissue) or sports massage will zero in on working out tension, spasms and trigger points and a sports massage might also include stretching, depending on your goals.

Look for a therapist who’s versatile and who has some knowledge of working with an athletic population. And don’t automatically write off therapists who integrate energy work or alternative modalities into the massage. Part of what makes massage so beneficial is its ability to work out deep tension and stress.

Massage therapy, sports massage, tips to get the most from a massage

Communicate with your massage therapist

Go into the massage knowing what you want and what you like and don’t like. Clearly communicate your expectations for the session as well as the kinds of exercise you’ve been doing or will be doing in the next few days. This is very important because the most beneficial massage the day before a big race will be vastly different from one leading up to a rest week.

Ideally, you’ll find a therapist who understands your goals and concerns, has techniques you enjoy and that you’ll consistently rebook with. This is beneficial because the therapist will learn what your body best responds to, the ideal pressure and sensitive areas and can provide feedback about your progress.

To get the most from a massage, it’s important that you feel comfortable enough with the therapist so that you can speak up if anything from the temperature of the room to the depth of pressure needs adjusting. This is your time. You’re in the driver’s seat. It’s okay to mention if something’s not working for you. 

To talk or not to talk?

As a massage therapist, I don’t mind talking to my clients or easing their first appointment jitters with a few minutes of small talk as we gain each other’s trust. But there’s a reason why we dim the lights and play soft music—we’re trying to relax you. Healing can best take place when the body is relaxed. This is why we highly encourage you to take advantage of this time to zone out.

How to find a great massage therapist

Other athletes are a great resource for referrals, as are coaches and bike shops. But if you have to go it alone, here are a few insider tips. It’s important to find a therapist who listens to your needs and caters the session to you. It’s not about them or what fancy technique they just learned. It’s always about you. Remember that. Their job is to take your goals and choose the appropriate tools and techniques they have available to best help you reach them. 

Aside from that, I’m always impressed by a therapist who starts me supine (face up) because this shows they understand how important it is to release the often tighter flexors of the body first, which then helps the extensors of the back of the body naturally relax. A great massage therapist outlines a treatment plan (or indicates that they have one), gives me a clear idea of how often I should schedule, and provides any home exercises I should do to fulfill my end of the partnership. Finally, I’m also impressed by anyone who has a network of other medical professionals they will refer a client to if the therapist is not making progress or believes another treatment may be more effective.

Please leave a comment with any tips you’d like to share! I hope this helps make your next massage the best one yet.

Related post: Should cyclists use a foam roller?


3 thoughts on “Tips to get the most from a massage

  1. Thanks for the tips! I desperately need a massage, so I want to be sure that I enjoy it. I’ve never had a massage by a professional before, so it’s important to me that I have an enjoyable experience. It helps to know that I can either talk to the therapist or zone out. I can’t help but think that I have to talk to the massage therapist, so it’s comforting to know that I can zone out to have a more relaxing experience.

  2. Thank you for the help. I am suppose to get massage therapy for the first time soon to help deal with stress. I am grateful to hear your emphasis on how important and normal communication with the therapist is. I think if there was something they were doing that didn’t feel good, then it could add to my stress. I will be sure keep these tips in mind.

  3. I really appreciated this post, especially because I’ve never been to a therapist before. My wife thinks I need to start having massages though to reduce stress. I didn’t know how awkward it would be, but I’m glad to hear that there is time for small chat usually, and then you can just listen to music and relax without having to feel like you need to talk to the person. Thanks for sharing this!

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