Justin Compton, Guy Cisternino, Dallas McCarver, Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, Jon Linden amongst many others all have at least two things in common. They are all IFBB professional bodybuilders, and to gain and maintain their mind boggling mass they receive regular massages. What? No way you may say but in order to understand why it helps all these muscle fanatics gain the size they do, you must first step back and get a better understanding of both massage and muscle development
Firstly, what is massage? The textbook definition is the manipulation of soft tissue including skin, muscles, and fascia, which is the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles, for the improvement of bodily functions and stress and pain relief. Massage is used to break up adhesions in soft tissues, often referred to as “knots”. These adhesions are caused mainly by waste from your muscular cells working and depositing their waste into the tissue around it. Our body’s lymphatic system is in charge of getting rid of this waste, however when overloaded with a high level of activity it can be bogged down and thus take much longer to transport this muscular waste out of your body. Anyone who has put in work at the gym has experienced the soreness from this and it is mainly referred to as D.O.M.S or delayed onset muscle soreness. Think of it like this: a muscle is like a stack of paper, each sheet representing an individual muscle fiber. If you take some sand and sprinkle a bit in-between each sheet, you no longer have a solid stack of paper that moves as one. The movement will be rough and rippled. Massage flushes out the “sand”, restoring mobility and riding the muscle of excess waste.
Which leads me next to understanding how muscles develop and how massage plays a major role. Muscles are just like everything else in our world; they need food to flourish. This is why when trying to get into shape or maintain a healthy weight, we hear the mantra “It’s all in what you eat”. Having a proper diet means feeding your muscles with the nutrients they need to prosper. However, another piece of advice that is not but should be spoken of more is you need to rest and recover.
When a muscle contracts, every single fiber doesn’t contract at once. What actually happens is your mind processes exactly how much effort is needed to work, and it sends the signal through your nervous system that fires the exact number of fibers needed to do the work. Have you ever almost thrown something because you thought it was much heavier at first sight? That’s because your brain made the wrong calculation and too many muscle fibers fired at once. Conversely, holding something in front of you over time will feel heavier and heavier. This is caused by the original fibers that fired have used up all the energy that they had (from all that good food) and can’t fire anymore. So now new fibers must be fired up to continue to hold the weight. Muscular failure is what happens when there are no more fibers to fire. So, what now? Most people will go home sore but happy at giving their all in the gym. You eat well, drink water, stretch (hopefully), and try to get a good night of sleep. But there is much more you can do.
So that muscle that you worked to its full capacity, let’s say it has 1,000 fibers, is swollen and inflamed with all those metabolic byproducts from your session. Your body now must work double time processing out not only your workout, but the other 14 -16 hours of work, stress, and outside toxins that you encountered that day. As we spoke of before, D.O.M.S is the result of an over loaded lymphatic system that just can’t process all of your metabolic byproducts out in only one night. At best, of those 1,000 shortened, inflamed, and tired muscle fibers, 500-600 may be ready to tackle the next workout. And in order to gain the serious mass of a bodybuilder, you must work out 4-6 times a week, constantly pushing your boundaries meaning you need all fibers firing every workout. This is where your neighborhood friendly massage therapist steps in!
Now that we understand how muscles work and what massage really is, not just cucumbers on your eyes and soft soothing strokes, you can start to see how it can help muscle growth. Pushing metabolic byproducts out of your tissues, it speeds up the lymphatic system’s process of eliminating those byproducts, thus creating space for growth. It encourages blood flow in and out of muscles, helping to bring the nutrients, oxygen, and any supplements you might be taking into your cells, giving them what they need to recover. It keeps joints moving fluidly by preventing adhesions where muscles and tendons attach into the joints. Flexibility plays a big role in muscle development, being able to get the full range of motion during an exercise will give your muscles the full and complete look you need to compete. Massage stretches muscles out more efficiently than any static stretch can, giving you more flexibility and in the end more power. Stretching out muscle fibers releases them from their tight, shortened state so that they have the ability to flex again, having the optimal amount of fibers being able to fire to increase growth. If you struggle to get sleep which is vital to recovery and health, studies have shown 1 hour of massage gives your body and mind the same rest as 7-8 hours of sleep.
The list on ways massage benefits you is endless. How it can increase muscle growth comes down to these main ways: improving range of motion to ensure muscles can fully extend and contract without injury, increasing circulation which removes byproducts and brings in nutrients, releasing muscles from their shortened state so they are able to be contracted normally, and giving your body the rest that it needs to fully recover and get back in the gym to continue your growth.
At Unlimited Bodywork we strive to provide you with massage that best fits your needs. As an athlete of any caliber, massage is an essential part of maintaining healthy muscles and range of motion in your joints. Call today and schedule to progress your health and fitness.