Who doesn’t love a good massage? It feels great. It’s definitely relaxing—even if you get some deep tissue work done (and just about everybody seems to love deep tissue work these days), you still come out the other side feeling a little more blissed out than you did walking in.
And well you should—deep tissue massage or no—because there’s a lot about massage that’s good for you, the hard-working circus artist-athlete:
- Muscles get some fluid squeezed out, which encourages new fluid to come in, hydrating the tissue. Hydrated muscles perform better.
- More than just water, muscles get fresh, nutrient-rich blood and oxygen. Those are good for helping muscles to recover from exercise and even to recover from injury.
- Unnecessary muscle tension is often reduced, promoting the aforementioned relaxation, not to mention better recovery from exercise and better muscle function. Normalizing CNS tone (tension) not only helps muscles perform better, but it can also help with improving flexibility.
Yes, indeed: massage—and soft tissue work, in general—is an important component of any athletic training program.
(And I am going to take just a brief moment for an important detour:
Yes, you, dear reader, who has fallen in love with circus …your long-term participation in circus arts hinges on you becoming comfortable with the idea that, if you didn’t consider yourself one previously, you are an athlete now and you need to train your body like one.
There. That was just in case anyone’s forgotten why we’re here. I feel better. Now, on with the show…)
The thing is, it’s possible—actually, I’m going to go with probable—that you’re just not getting as much out of your massage as you could.
I have a question:
Why are you getting a massage?
Because it feels good.
It relaxes me.
It helps with the aches and pains.
Because of all the reasons mentioned above.
All good reasons.
Sometimes, people get a massage because they have been told it will help them to move better (by loosening up a restriction or improving alignment).
What prompted me to write this was a Facebook post by my friend, Monika Volkmar of The Dance Training Project. She wrote:
(I love movement coaching person as a title)
*AiM: Anatomy in Motion
Here, the “movement practice” she refers to could broadly be described as some form of corrective exercise.[Perhaps this is pedantic, but here I’m interpreting structure to refer to alignment and posture all rolled into one.]
Now this whole line of thinking—that massage or movement-training might be a means of improving alignment and/or function—pre-supposes that you might be going to get a massage in order to improve something. That’s an important piece of the puzzle that deserves a moment of exploration:
A moment of exploration…
There is room here for us to go a bit beyond the surface level thought (I’m gonna get a massage because it feels nice and/or because my (insert muscle name here) has been feeling so tight lately).
Don’t get me wrong: it’s completely legitimate to want a massage because it feels nice. It is similarly legitimate to seek out a massage therapist because your (insert muscle name here) feels tight.
In fact, the idea that a massage might help you with your (insert muscle name here) is the very idea I want to explore.
I think it’s important for dedicated circus artist-athletes to develop not only a habit of taking care of their bodies, but going further, I think it’s important—nay, critical—for circus artist-athletes to develop a familiarity with their bodies and their own movement patterns: what’s working well, what needs improving…and to be taking steps to actually improve those things.
The door is open…
Very often, it’s possible for a corrective exercise (or sequence of exercises) to have an immediate and noticeable impact on movement. Manual therapy can often have a similar immediate and noticeable impact.
The question is whether or not it sticks.
Massage, as Monika points out, opens a door and creates an opportunity to change a funky movement pattern that has been causing your muscles some grief. The key to walking through the door becomes having your movement training build upon the changes in muscle tension that the massage made.
Just in case there’s any doubt: by movement training, I mean functional strength and conditioning, where your training plan is simultaneously working on your weaknesses and imbalances, but also making you strong and resilient.