You might think of massage as a soothing way to relax after a
stressful week, which is true. But you may not be aware of the
massage therapy can offer to athletes-whether you walk five or
six times a week to stay in shape or compete in the Ironman
triathlon, one of the most grueling tests of human endurance there
"Massage therapy increases blood flow to the muscles and, by
doing that, it enhances athletic performance," says Alan McGarrity,
a licensed massage therapist who works at the Massage Envy Paradise
Valley Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. "The increased blood flow enhances
a number of other body systems, including the immune system, which
also contributes to improved performance."
A Smart Strategy for a Serious Athlete
For the past year, McGarrity has been working with a client who
is an Ironman competitor. This dedicated 48-year-old athlete, Terry
Gerber of Phoenix, works out for two hours nearly every day to
prepare for Ironman competitions. The Ironman triathlon involves
three back-to-back races: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and
a 26.2-mile run.
Gerber, who has been participating in triathlons for many years,
began competing in Ironman races about three years ago. He first
visited McGarrity to seek relief for a pulled back muscle. But
Gerber quickly recognized that massage therapy could offer even
more significant benefits.
"I've found that regular sports massage therapy is
preventive-I'm less prone to injury and I recover faster from my
workouts," he says. "Because I feel better, I'm able to keep up
with my daily workouts."
Gerber's weekly massage therapy sessions have also improved his
flexibility, which he says was a real issue for him. "My
flexibility has at least tripled-which, in turn, pays off big
dividends in my training and performance during events," Gerber
says. "And being more flexible is another factor in keeping me
Proven Performance Improvements
Gerber and McGarrity are convinced that Gerber's performance has
improved since he began getting regular massages. During his last
Ironman race, Gerber did better than he expected-especially toward
the end of the competition, when athletes are more likely to
"I didn't improve my time the way I'd hoped, but that was all
about the extremely challenging course and terrible weather
conditions," he says. "But in the second part of my marathon I
actually ran faster, which I thought was kind of remarkable."
And the effects of massage therapy on athletic performance
aren't merely anecdotal. According to Margaret Jones, Ph.D., a
fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, a study she
conducted demonstrated a notable trend toward decreased muscle
soreness in the athletes who received massage either before or
"The study was too small to be statistically significant, but
the athletes certainly felt better as a result of the massage,"
Jones explains. "We plan to study it further, but I definitely
think massage has positive benefits."
For anyone participating in regular physical activity, McGarrity
recommends massage therapy every week or two but says it's best for
people to discuss a plan with their own massage therapist.
"I think it's been really valuable to establish an ongoing
relationship with a massage therapist who understands my needs,"
Gerber says. "And, to me, regular massage is a worthwhile
investment to keep my muscles in shape so I can do the long
workouts I need to do to be competitive in my sport."
- By Amy Lynn