Elite athletes have long sworn by rubdowns to aid recovery and help them feel fresh the day after intense training or a race. It's not likely that we need another reason to have a post-exercise massage, but researchers from Ohio State University in the US have given us one. In a study they used six rabbits to test the effects of massage. Over four days, they used a device to exercise the rabbits' hind legs (the rabbits were sedated for the sessions). After the exercise, one leg of each rabbit was given a mechanical massage designed to imitate the movements of a Swedish massage while the other leg was simply rested. When they compared the muscle tissue in the animals, the researchers found that the massaged muscles showed improved function, less swelling and fewer signs of inflammation than the rested muscles.
But who can afford a daily massage? You can - if you do it yourself, says Rich Poley, an Ironman triathlete and author of Self-Massage for Athletes. "The key is knowing the right techniques and being able to relax," he says. "I recommend an easy leg massage every day - especially after riding - to flush your legs and release tight spots. It will relieve pain and improve function day to day." Here's how:
Warm up your legs
Sit in a relaxed position and, with light to moderate pressure, glide the palms of your hands over your legs, starting with your calves and shins and working up to your quads and hamstrings. Repeat 10 times
on each leg, increasing the intensity toward the end, so you're pressing in with the
heel of your hand and rubbing towards your heart.
Find your trigger points
Firmly press your elbow into your thigh and run it along your quad muscles, paying attention to sensitive spots, which Poley calls trigger points. When you find one - and you will - press down in a circular motion as deeply as you can tolerate to release tension and pain. "Work any trigger point for no more than 30 seconds," says Poley. "Then back off and repeat once or twice." It may take more than one session to completely release bigger points.
Cross your ankle over your opposite knee and work on your calf in a similar fashion.
Roll out tension
In a circular motion, roll a firm rubber ball along your hamstring from your knee to your bottom. Then place the ball under your backside and sink your weight onto it, again rolling in small circles, paying special attention to trigger points.
Do karate chops
Using the sides or heels of your hands, briskly and firmly drum your way up your leg to release any remaining muscle tension.
Flush it out
Lie on your back with your legs propped against a wall. Using the same gliding strokes as in the warm-up section, flush out your legs, moving toward your heart. Stay in this position for a few minutes.