The Benefit of Massage For Runners and Triathletes


As a runner, triathlete and sports massage therapist I get asked quite a lot “Is massage beneficial and what are the benefits for runners and triathletes?”

The simple answer is yes, massage is very beneficial and the following article highlights some of my own thoughts blended with what the industry is thinking.

Both sports require sustained, repetitive muscular contractions. The greater the contraction, the greater the force generated, more muscle fibre are recruited and therefore shortened. This translates into tight muscles, reduced range of motion and decreased circulation to compressed tissue.

The objective of therapeutic massage is to lengthen those shortened muscle fibres, thus relieving tightness, increasing range of motion and improving circulation.

Improving the effectiveness of the circulatory system will enhance oxygen transfer, waste removal and nutrient delivery at a cellular level. Our circulatory system will deliver both oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, then will pick up and remove those nasty metabolic by products and waste, basically the stuff that will slow all of us down!!!

Therapeutic massage, whether it is sports, remedial or deep tissue will elicit a very specific physiological response. These effects are of great benefit for runners and triathletes alike, allowing for quicker recovery, injury prevention and the thing that we all want, which is improved performance!!!

Massage benefits include…

1. Dilates blood vessels which promotes circulation and lowers blood pressure
2. Assists venous blood flow (blood returning to your heart)
3. Promotes rapid removal of metabolic waste products
4. Improves the oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cell
5. Improves pulmonary function by loosening tight respiratory muscles
6. Reduces muscle soreness and fatigue
7. Increases/restores joint range of motion
8. Reduces cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine levels
9. Restores posture and gait
10. Improves connective tissue healing

So with all these benefits how often should someone get a sports/remedial massage?

It is important to note that the benefits of massage are cumulative. This means the more regular you receive your massage the greater the benefit. Just popping in for a one off massage pre race will provide some benefit but will in no way provide the same benefits as a well thought out preventative program throughout each training cycle. Yes massage should be part of your periodisation plan, it is better to be proactive rather than reactive!!

Like your training plan your treatment plan is individual and be viewed as a case by case basis. Your goal is to set a regular schedule, once a week, once a fortnight or once a month. Assess your goals; are you elite or a weekend warrior? Whichever you are you still need to plan correctly, take into account any recurring injuries, increasing or decreasing your distances and intensities, are you red lining your training?

Program a deep tissue massage for more specific work during your recovery weeks and also combine a general good and deep flush within big load weeks, remember you and your therapist are working together. Make sure your massage is not too deep during your bigger load weeks as this may increase muscular fatigue!

When race week has arrived….

When race week has arrived try to get a massage 3-5 days prior to the big day, again this is very individual and can also depend on your frequency of massage. I see some athletes the day before with no concern but only if they have been in on a regular basis. Coming in the day before and not having a massage for months can be detrimental and at most a light flush will be administered. Remember to use active recovery sessions to help with removal of metabolic waste, ideally schedule your massage the day before these sessions, preferably on a rest day. Scheduling in a deep tissue massage the day before a key session will mean a very sluggish day of training!

Post Race Massage…

Post race massage raises just as many questions as pre race. The 15 minute light flush after a race is great if you want to queue up for a while, alternatively an Epsom salts bath, ice bath and compression tights can provide sufficient immediate post race recovery before you see your regular therapist for a deep tissue massage. After the heavy load of a race your muscles will understandably be sore, you do not want to compound this by getting a deep tissue massage immediately after the race. 48 hours should allow your muscles to recover before receiving this type of recovery massage. Anything inside that timeline should be light!!

Incorporating massage into my build-up for Cairns Ironman…

Over the years I have competed in marathons, ultra marathons and triathlons up to Ironman distance. I can honestly say my massage routine has been tweaked here and there, going from next to no massage in my first marathon (this was before I became a massage therapist), and my most recent event, Ironman Cairns, numerous massages! Here was my routine for the build up to Cairns:

  • Once every 4 weeks a deep tissue massage to work on specifics, a flush if I needed one in between. I’ll admit that during my heavy blocks of training I wanted to allow my body to adapt to all the stresses I was placing upon it, but I never went to breaking point!!
  • During my peak phase (8 weeks from race day) I received a deep flush every week.
  • During Taper (in the last 2 weeks prior to race day) I had 2 flushes per week.
  • During race week my last massage was 3 days before the Ironman.
  • Post race massage 48hrs after the event

I found this to work well for me. Remember this may not work for you, this is an example, you and your therapist must work together to produce the best outcome for your goals!!

In my opinion if you are serious about your sporting performance, have the finances and the time then you will be getting a massage at least once per week, if you’re in it to take part and have fun then once a month is the bare minimum. Remember your body is your most essential piece of equipment and like any high performance machine it should be well maintained and looked after to achieve those results you have been training so hard for!!


David Williams

Remedial Massage Therapist



The Powerful Benefits of Massage for Runners (and how to do self-massage on the cheap)

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