Massage Therapy Muscle Recovery for Bodybuilders

Can Massage Reduce Muscle Soreness in Bodybuilders?

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is an often unwelcome accompaniment to resistance training. It is particularly common among bodybuilders, where high volumes of training and advanced techniques are often used.

 DOMS can make it difficult to resume training the day or days after a hard training session. This makes it valuable to find ways of reducing DOMS. However, few methods have been identified that can genuinely make a difference.

 Previously, massage (and also self-manual therapies like foam rolling) have been suggested as ways to reduce DOMS, but they have not ever before been explored in bodybuilders or other athletes engaged in large volumes of resistance training.

The Study

Efficacy of massage on muscle soreness, perceived recovery, physiological restoration and physical performance in male bodybuilders, by Kargarfard, Lam, Shariat, Shaw, Shaw & Tamrin, in Journal of Sports Sciences (2015)

What Did The Researchers Do?

The researchers assessed the effects of massage on post-workout muscle soreness and muscle damage in a group of natural, male bodybuilders.

What Were The Key Study Features?

Using the PICO method, here are the key details:

  • Population: 30 healthy, natural male bodybuilders, aged 29 ± 4 years, randomly allocated to either a massage group or to a control group
  • Intervention: All subjects incurred a workout designed to produce DOMS. This workout comprised 5 sets of squats with 75% of 1RM to failure, followed by an additional 5 sets of leg press with 75% of 1RM to failure, followed by an isometric knee extension hold for time with the right leg using 50% of maximum isometric force. The subjects in the massage group received a massage 2 hours post-workout, comprising the standard techniques of effleurage, petrissage, and vibration.
  • Comparison: The two groups were compared with each other and with baseline measures
  • Outcomes: perceived muscle soreness (using a visual analog scale [VAS]), muscle damage as measured by serum creatine kinase (from blood samples), muscular performance (by reference to vertical jump height, agility test ability, and maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) knee extension torque.

Practical Takeaways

This study is a valuable finding for strength and conditioning, as it demonstrates that massage deserves a place within the standard recovery techniques for strength and power athletes performing regular, heavy resistance training.

 Such individuals are not necessarily limited to bodybuilders but may also include track and field athletes, American football and rugby players, and Olympic weightlifters.

 Where funds are limited, self-manual therapies may also prove useful. Several studies have found that foam rolling is also effective for reducing DOMS, albeit not yet in bodybuilders or in athletes who undergo regular heavy resistance training.

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