There’s a reason why getting a massage after a workout feels so good. Research has shown us time and again that post-workout massage therapy can help treat muscle fatigue, reduce stiffness, and speed up recovery. A rubdown after exercise can even help boost your mood thanks to an increase in endorphins, those feel-good hormones that activate the body’s opiate receptors.
But there are some things to keep in mind to make the most of your post-workout massage, including how much to hydrate, what to do if you have a muscle strain, and what types of massages pair well with different workouts. And what about getting a massage before a workout? Does it help? Here’s what you should know about planning your workout before a massage.
Working out before a massage has plentiful physical and psychological benefits and can help enhance your fitness goals. Here’s what the research says.
Studies have revealed that by increasing circulation, a post-workout massage relieves muscle fatigue and weakness more significantly than taking a resting period. This is because increased circulation helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscles. At the same time, massage clears out creatine kinase in the blood, which are enzymes that induce inflammation and build up after exercise. This fast clearance from the circulatory system speeds up muscle recovery.
If a strenuous workout has led to some stiffness, massage can help by lengthening muscles. This study found that massaging areas of tension with deep focused strokes resulted in elongated muscles while kneading and tapping helped improve joint flexibility. Other research has shown that massage is as effective as stretching in improving the range of motion, though combining massage and stretching has even better results.
Want to keep that post-workout high going? Try a massage. Studies have shown that combining exercise with massage consistently produces positive mood enhancement with significant decreases in tension, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and anger while maintaining high levels of vigor. This is seen to be more effective than exercise on its own.
If you have a preference for a hot stone massage, there’s even more reason to get one if your exercise has resulted in some pain and soreness. Studies have indicated that heat therapy is effective at treating delayed-onset muscle soreness associated with exercise, with benefits seen in both younger and older subjects. Heat was even shown to be more effective than cold therapy when applied after exercise.
There’s also a case for getting a pre-workout massage as well. The study cited above shows that in some instances, applying heat before exercise was actually more effective than stretching at preventing pain during a workout. It also helps to improve physical function the day after exercise.
It’s always important to hydrate when working out to replace the fluids you’ve lost through sweating. But it’s even more important to drink water if you’re planning to get a massage afterward because massage can be dehydrating. Experts say that the manipulation of muscles can deplete them of water and electrolytes. At the same time, water aids the body in flushing out any accumulated materials that were released during the massage, which is especially important in deep tissue massages. Drinking water before a massage also makes the muscles easier to manipulate as dehydrated muscles tend to be more rigid.
The amount of water you should drink varies according to your body type and the intensity of your workout, but some physicians recommend 17-20 ounces before working out, 8 ounces every 10 minutes during your workout, and another 16 ounces after you’re done.
Getting a muscle strain or other exercise-related injury may mean taking a break from the gym for a while. But you don’t have to take a break from massages. In fact, scientists at the Wyss Institute and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences found that compression to injuries helps them recover faster by squeezing inflammation-causing cells out of the muscle tissue and enhancing muscle fiber regeneration.
Massage can also help in how you perceive pain. This study on the effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and repeated sports performance found that massage intervention significantly increased perceptions of recovery compared with passive rest.
From deep tissue massage to hot stone, there are numerous types of massages available. Which one is best for your workout? Here’s how to choose:
A deep tissue massage can sometimes be uncomfortable as toxins get kneaded out of the muscles to stimulate regeneration. While this can be helpful for injuries, soreness, and stiffness, it should be approached with caution as too much manipulation can cause bruising. Some experts suggest this form of massage should be done between workouts and not on the same day as a vigorous workout to avoid causing more inflammation.
If you’re aiming to improve joint flexibility and range of motion after an intense boxing session or HIIT routine, try shiatsu. Along with providing direct pressure on different points of the body through kneading and tapping, therapists integrate plenty of stretching into a shiatsu massage, which helps joints move more smoothly and cohesively.
Ideal for stimulating blood circulation and helping you relax, a Swedish massage can help soothe muscles that have been fatigued by long runs or cycling sessions. A Swedish massage is also a standard option for those who have never had a massage before and want to start off lightly. It’s also a great choice for those who may be struggling with mental stress and worry.
A hot stone massage can help relieve muscle knots and tightness that may be caused by strength training or too many plank holds in yoga. As the above study cited on heat therapy showed, applying heat helps to aid muscle recovery, reducing pain faster than ice packs or stretching.
Whether you work out every day, once a week, or on a whim, getting a massage can be an excellent addition to your fitness routine. Having a massage bed at home is one way to reap the benefits whenever you need pain relief, increased flexibility, or better muscle recovery.
The CERAGEM V6 is a unique in-home massage bed because it combines acupressure, deep-tissue massage, stretching, and hot stone therapy all in one. With patented scanning technology that analyzes your exact spinal length and curvature, the CERAGEM V6 adjusts to your measurements to provide a customized massage while applying intensive thermal therapy at a soothing and deeply penetrating 149°F. At the same time, compression boots worn on your legs improve circulation, which can be especially helpful for runners or anyone experiencing muscle fatigue.
Cleared by the FDA as a Class II medical device, the CERAGEM V6 can be used before and after your massage whether you’re trying to relieve soreness or stress. Learn more about how massage can help you meet your fitness goals today.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist specializing in health and wellness. She has written for TIME, Health, Glamour, Parents, Women’s Health, VICE, and the Telegraph.
National Library of Medicine – Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Cleveland Clinic – Endorphins
National Library of Medicine – Effect of massage on blood flow and muscle fatigue following isometric lumbar exercise
IOSR Journal of Sports and Physical Education – Study on Effectiveness of Static Stretching and Massage on Hamstring Flexibility in Normal Adults
Human Kinetics Journals – The Relationship of Massage and Exercise to Mood Enhancement
New York Health – How Much Water Do You Need to Drink When Exercising?
The Harvard Gazette – Massage helps injured muscles heal faster and stronger
National Library of Medicine – Effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and repeated sports performance
Verywell Fit – How to Use Massage for Post-Workout Recovery
Medical News Today – What to Know About Shiatsu Massage