Have you ever treated yourself to a massage after a long, hard day of climbing? Ever noticed how AMAZING you feel afterward? I know I have, but feeling great isn’t the only benefit of getting a massage. Massage can also benefit climbers by accelerating recovery, improving flexibility, relieving tension, deepening sleep, and reducing stress. So, here are 5 ways that massage can improve your climbing.
1. Recover faster from injuries
We live in a pretty toxic environment. Whether it be in our air, water, food or soil, we can pretty much encounter toxins everywhere we go. Typically, it’s not a problem because our livers remove most of the toxins from our blood. However, sometimes these toxins can be deposited in our fat stores and muscle tissue.
When we exercise, we break down muscle tissue and burn fat stores, which can release these toxins into the lymph system and muscles. When toxins accumulate in muscle tissue, it often results in a sore and achy pain. The lymph system acts as the body’s drainage system, flushing toxins out of the system altogether. However, lymphatic fluid (lymph) does not flow continuously through our body like our blood.
Without a heart to pump things along, lymph can remain stagnant unless stimulated by movement or muscle contraction. Exercise can help move lymph through the system, but many times massage is necessary to drain the system. Swedish massage, the gentlest form of massage, can help eliminate toxins and improve circulation to help accelerate recovery from exercise and injury.
2. Improve flexibility
Joint stiffness and muscle tightness are common limiting factors for rock climbers. When we climb, we stretch through a variety of different positions, making flexibility crucial for proper injury prevention.
Fellow climber and amazing massage therapist, Emily Dale, says,
“Flexibility is a huge factor in safety when you rely on tendons and muscles to pull you through a crux. Swedish massage, coupled with frequent stretching and/or yoga, can significantly reduce joint stiffness and increase flexibility.”
3. Relieve tension
Rock climbing is a very diverse sport, but the movements we make can become a bit redundant for our muscles. And while we use different muscle groups for each style of climbing, our forearms, neck, back, and shoulders tend to bear the brunt of the stress. There are two forms of massage that can help relieve tension in these specific areas: sport and deep tissue.
Sports massage incorporates techniques similar to Swedish massage, often focusing on specific trigger points and stretching methods. Typically, rock climbers will want trigger point therapy on their forearms, neck, back and shoulders. These techniques are used to relieve tension in overworked muscles, reduce the risk of injury, and contribute to a quicker recovery.
Deep tissue massage is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue or fascia. So, whether you are dealing with an injury or trying to send your project, deep tissue massages can get you up and going for your next effort in a short amount of time.
4. Sleep deeper
Getting quality sleep every night can help improve memory, regulate metabolism, and strengthen your immune system, but the benefits of sleep don’t stop there. A recent study found that sleep can actually improve motor memory consolidation, aka your muscle memory.
This means that skimping on sleep can actually prevent your body from mastering specific climbing moves or techniques, even if you’ve practiced them multiple times during the day. Luckily, Swedish massage can be extremely helpful in restoring regular sleep patterns by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
5. Reduce stress
Ever noticed how calm and relaxed you feel after a massage? Well, as it turns out, it’s more than just a feeling. A gentle touch anywhere on the body triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for rest and relaxation.
Massage can increase the availability of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, the chemical messengers responsible for feelings of pleasure, motivation, and a balanced mood. In addition, massage can also decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which tends to run high when you’re constantly stressed out. Balancing your cortisol levels will help you unwind, sleep better, and strengthen your immune system – all factors that contribute to better athletic performance.
Massage therapist Emily Dale recommends that climbers get a massage at least once every two weeks. This habit can help you keep your muscles healthy, improve your flexibility, maintain relaxation and sleep better. Don’t sabotage all your hard work; go get a massage. If you can’t afford to see a massage therapist, then I hope you have a generous climbing partner 😉