So, you kinda want to get a massage.
You’re training on a regular basis and you recognize that, even with regular stretching, certain muscles are still pretty stiff and uncomfortable. You also know that the last time you heard about a massage was when your girlfriend did it with a bunch of her friends for a bridal shower, which just sounds way too girly. Then there was that guy in accounting who wandered off from the annual sales meeting to do something that sounded vaguely illegal. No worries. We’ve got everything you need to know about basic massage right here.
In fact, we spoke to licensed massage therapist Rich Kiamco, who trained at the Swedish Institute in New York, to get his expert opinion.
The Benefits of Massage for Men
If you’re actively involved in any kind of sport or workout on a regular basis, a good massage soothes and relaxes muscles that are tight and can ease soreness from injury and even help in recovery. Do you fly a lot for work, or are headed for a global vacation?
“On an airplane, you’ve been sitting still and your body is atrophying. You’re immobilized, under pressure, and in a weird position, so your body is naturally stressed,” says Kiamco. “A good massage helps relieve that stress, stretches you out, and sends you back into the world refreshed. In fact, it’s generally a great way to relieve stress, relax, and remove toxins from your body. You’ll sleep better and think more clearly.”
Don’t be confused by the various types of massage. They’re all great, but each offers its own philosophy and specific benefits.
4 Main Types of Massages
- Thai massage was developed by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago and, as you may imagine, has a bit more of a spiritual tradition associated with it. It involves more passive stretching and gentle pressure and is performed fully clothed, on a futon. It may feel oddly intimate since the therapist will use her body weight to stretch certain muscles and will move your body into various positions. It’s kind of like yoga, but you’re not doing the work. Shiatsu Massage is a similar discipline, and shares certain techniques, but has more to do with aligning the body’s qi than attending to the physical body itself.
- Swedish massage is probably the most familiar to you, particularly because it follows more Western traditions of anatomy and physiology. This therapist will use broad general strokes, known as effleurage, to start; then moves on to target specific problem areas.
- Deep tissue massage builds on the Swedish tradition, utilizing pressure to release chronic muscle tension. It gets into deeper layers of muscle tissue, tendons, and fascia (the material you’re engaging when using a foam roller). It’s said to reduce blood pressure and stress hormones and is specifically used to treat things like limited mobility, repetitive stress injuries—like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow—or sciatica. The deep pressure breaks up knots of muscle and scar tissue to relieve pain and stiffness and increase flexibility.
- Sports massage is based on any or all of these techniques, and should definitely be incorporated into your regimen, particularly if you are training for a specific event like a marathon, triathlon, Spartan Race or even a 5K. If you haven’t had a massage (or haven’t in a while), don’t jump into it the day before your event. Go every week or two early on in your training calendar, then around two days before the actual bout. Do it again two or three days after you compete, too. The practice can help prevent injuries due to overused and stressed muscles ahead of your competition, then reduce recovery time post-event. Be prepared, though: unlike a traditional massage, a sports massage therapist may give you homework and guidance on form correction just like a coach.
Once you’ve decided on the technique that’s right for you, set up an appointment. Need to know more about what actually happens during a massage?
What To Expect During a Massage
Kiamco recommends over-communicating with your therapist: “Let us know up front about any medical issues you are experiencing. Do you have back pain or any injuries? Any skin conditions? In fact, if you have a rash of any sort, you should not get a message. Keep hydrated both before and after the session. This is all about your comfort, so, just like life, be clear and direct about what you expect. Do you want deeper or more gentle pressure?”
You’ll start with a shower: the therapist is going to be rubbing his hands all over your body, so you’ll want to present a clean canvas for him to ply his art. Then, depending on your level of comfort, you can either get naked, wear underwear, boxers or even a swimsuit. “You’re here to take care of yourself and relax,” says Kiamco. “Set clear boundaries for yourself and the therapist.”
In most cases any naughty bits will be covered with a towel or sheet—even a blanket in some cases to keep your body warm and blood circulating—so you don’t really have to be concerned with modesty. Again…over-communicate. Unless you’re working with a trainee or a newbie, most massage therapists have seen it all and could not care less about your appearance. You’ll then climb onto a massage table and lay on your stomach, with your head supported by a face rest, so you can breathe comfortably.
The therapist will then proceed to rub your skin and muscles with oil or cream. “People have various fragrance sensitivities,” points out Kiamco. “A lot of my customers will ask me to let them smell the product I’m using first. They may choose to go with something unscented, or with a fragrance they like.” He points out that there is such a thing as a dry massage, using no product at all. Once oiled up, your therapist will begin whatever massage you chose. Be sure to check in with your therapist about any discomfort along the way. And finally…
See a Licensed Professional
For safety’s sake, we recommend finding a licensed professional. That way you’re more likely to avoid injury and get the best experience possible. Check out the American Massage Therapy Association. Although the site is primarily designed for massage professionals to get together, there is a link to help find a massage therapist by name, keyword, or location. Kiamco, for instance, attended the Swedish Institute in New York City and had to complete a certain number of hours before getting certified based on the requirements of the State of New York. He also has to take continuing education credits over time to maintain his license. You may also get a referral to somebody through a spa or your gym.
This is not to say that you might not get a decent rubdown by one of those people in the mall or an airport…but particularly if you are going to address a specific concern, why risk it? For that same reason, you may see advertisements for “Body Work,” or “Foot Massage,” a term often used by those who give massages, but who are not actually licensed. Laws change from state to state, but in most cases, legally you can’t offer massage without a license.
Finally, if you’re looking for something a little more…sensual; i.e., the proverbial “happy ending,” you’re not going to get that from a licensed massage therapist. Seriously don’t even think about it. That’s a one-way ticket to a sexual harassment suit and possible jail time.
For an at-home approximation of a professional massage, you can always turn to the Hypervolt massager or one of its similar counterparts.
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