It Does a Body Good!

Most fighters, to one degree or another, have experienced times of physical overexertion. They have overworked themselves in training by pushing their body past it’s limit. On one hand, this is an essential component to, not just elite boxers, but any athlete because “pushing yourself” is what creates progress. Stepping out of your comfort zone opens doors in and out of the ring. From a purely physical perspective we can say that whenever you perform an activity that your body is not familiar with, when you repetitively use the same muscles for extended periods at high intensity or perform any sudden, jerky motions or severe contractions you are going to feel the after-effects. This usually comes in the form of muscle soreness, fatigue and joint pain which all affect your workouts and ability to perform. Unfortunately, you can only do so much to prevent this from happening. Obviously, you have to be sure you’re warming up properly and are executing correct boxing technique or adhering to good form in all exercise/activity.  This alone will help lessen the chance of injury, but when it comes right down to it, if you’re not leaving the gym feeling fatigued or sore in some way… you’re doing something wrong. However, when it reaches extreme levels, something else has to be done to aid in the recovery and enhance the recuperative ability of those muscles.

One activity that can provide a great benefit to elite athletes is therapeutic massage. Some people see massage as an hour long pampering session, used primarily by women with cucumbers covering their eyes, but the truth is that athletes are more fully understanding and experiencing the benefits it can have on their performance.

When we work out, the fibers in our muscles are microscopically damaged. Whether it’s soreness in your shoulders from ten intense rounds on the heavy bag or a pain in your neck from the left hook you didn’t see coming, a proper rest period is in order. Your body needs the proper rest time to repair and rebuild muscle fibers that have been slightly torn.  Massage can be implemented in this rebuilding stage to calm the body, relieve pain and promote healing. One reason massage is beneficial at this time is because of lactic acid build up. Lactic acid is a substance found in the human body, specifically your muscles, that causes them to be sore after exercise. Massage works to release lactic acid, along with other toxins, from your muscles and surrounding soft tissue. This is why you are always told to drink plenty of water before and after a massage. All the toxins have been stirred up and water is needed to flush them out.

In a recent study at McMaster University, researchers found that, along with reducing inflammation, massage signals mitochondria within muscles to multiply, healing tissue much faster.  This will help you get back in the gym more quickly.

Massage also has a myriad of other benefits, aside from shortened recovery time. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved range of motion and muscle flexibility
  • Boost  in level of alertness and attention
  • Providing arthritis relief by increasing joint flexibility
  • Increasing killer cells which help the immune system to defend against illness
  • Reduced stress, anxiety and depression, and ease insomnia

The most common reason most people get a massage is simply because it feels great. Why is this? Massage stimulates the release of endorphins (the body’s natural “feel good” chemical), by positively affecting the nervous system through nerve endings in the skin. Endorphins relieve pain and reduce levels of stress chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline. In turn, these will reverse the damaging effects of stress by slowing heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and lowering raised blood pressure. But more than anything, the release of endorphins helps to bring about a sense of well-being and relaxation.

In my opinion, the mental and emotional benefits of massage are just as important as the physical…especially for a fighter. Consider how much stress and anxiety you undergo when you’re training, sparring and preparing for the days leading up to a match? Not to mention actual combat!  What other sport demands that level of performing under pressure; physically, emotionally and spiritually?

All fighters and athletes should be encouraged to take advantage of the tools that are available to them. Educating yourself, experimenting and listening to your body is key in the growth in any athletic endeavor. If massage is something you’d like to try, go for it! To find out who what or where, ask a friend who gets one regularly or do an internet search for “Top Rated Massage Therapist” in your area. Read reviews, ask questions and ask about their credentials. Sometimes there is a little bit of trial and error involved before you find a therapist who fits your needs exactly.  Take action and see where it leads. Who knows, you may find that it’s one of the best decisions you ever made for your mental and physical health. Doing the same thing you did yesterday is going to give you more of what you’ve got today. And if you’re not happy with that, then it’s time to change it up. So take a chance, be adventurous and take a more hands-on approach towards making yourself a better individual and fighter. Trust me, your mind and body will love you for it.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.