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Tips for getting a sports massage

29 Nov 2016

We find out why getting a ruddy good kneading is one of the best ways to recover from a gruelling ride

For many, recovering from injuries or just a really long ride means slumping on the sofa in front of the telly. However, you’ll make better progress if you hand your body into your local physio for a sports massage. We gave it a go…

What exactly is a ‘sports massage’?

Before we get started, you can banish those lofty ideas of soft and relaxing massages with scented candles and plink-plonky music. A sports massage is a type of therapy used to help you recover from injuries like torn, knotted or overstretched muscles.

The foundations for this brand of massage were laid in Sweden in 1812 when Swedish fencing master and gymnast Pehr Henrik Ling combined the famous Swedish massage with helpful exercises. Ling called this ‘kinesiotherapy’.

It wasn’t until the 1972 Olympic games, however, that it finally caught on, when Finnish track and field star Lasse Viren won gold in the 5km and 10km running races and credited his wins to the deep friction massages he got before and after races.

Eight years later an American horse trainer by the name of Jack Meagher coined the term ‘sports massage’ when he released a book about using massages for exercise-related injuries. Since then, sports massages have been used the world over for all types of competitors including, of course, professional cyclists.

What are the benefits of a sports massage?

A sports massage can be tailored to help alleviate injuries or strains incurred while out riding, but as our sports therapist Lauren Forsyth explains, ‘whether you’re a rider or you have an office job, sports massage can help with tension release, blood circulation and flushing toxins out.’

Usually done by soigneurs, pro riders will get a sports massage after a hard day’s racing to help keep muscles loose and prevent any build-up of unwanted toxins and lactic acid, making them ready to race again the next day.

‘A lot of people use it as a preventative to stop injuries from occurring,’ Lauren tells us. ‘Normally we’d suggest that if you’re training three to four times a week you should have one every two to four weeks.

‘When you’re sat on a bike, you’ll find your posture’s not so good and your chest tightens up. If your back is relatively weak between the shoulder blades, you’ll find yourself in more of a foetal position, which isn’t good.’ 

Getting a sports massage, then, won’t just help you to sit up straight like your teachers told you to but it will enable easier breathing and blood circulation. 

Should it be included as part of a training plan, then?

Lauren is unequivocal. ‘100%’ she says. ‘I usually give clients homework to take with them, this usually involves mobility work using resistance bands or foam rollers to incorporate it as part of their training plan at home,’ she explained.

The problem a lot of people find is that they can ride their bikes without any problems but will feel incredibly stiff after a long ride. A sports massage and the home workout Lauren suggests will allows your muscles to recover and rejuvenate more quickly. Another benefit is improved flexibility, which can help you get into a more aerodynamic position on the bike. 

So, How does it work?

Just like any other massage, you book your slot and turn up. Unlike some massages, though, there’s no eastern mysticism or bonging of cymbals . It can also be quite painful at first. But, as with cycling, the initial pain soon mellows out into a relaxing cathartic haze. 

‘We work to get knots and trigger points out,’ Lauren revealed. ‘When an injury isn’t worked on the muscle may heals in the wrong way creating a sensitive spot or trigger point. A sports massage is designed to  break that trigger point down and release tension.’ 

Can it help with old injuries?

 ‘A sports massage is advisable when it comes to past injuries that haven’t been looked at or worked on properly,’ Lauren explained, ‘older riders in particular who might have carried injures for years would particularly benefit.’

After a 30-minute session, our chap came out feeling a lot lighter than when he went in, with old injuries and freshly strained muscle alike feeling suitably relieved. 

How do I get involved? 

Sessions usually last from 30 minutes for specific problems right up to 90 minutes if you need to give your whole body a work over. Prices vary depending on your ailment and how many sessions you may need. See to find a local physiotherapist. 

Our expert Lauren Forsyth is a former football and hockey star at national level. Since becoming a sports therapist Lauren has worked with everyone from the Wasps rugby union team to Formula 1 drivers and Olympic weightlifters. See for more details.

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