Some athletes may have thought of sports massage therapy as something to do only after a strenuous athletic performance in the past. Though post-event benefits are still a big part of sports massage, there’s a lot more to it.Sports massage is now widely recognised as playing an increasingly important role during an athlete’s training season, as well as only hours before an event.

Flow of Thinking

Since every athlete and training programme is different, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for athletes and massage therapists collaborating. A therapist is constantly changing strokes to meet the needs and training goals of an athlete. Ann E. Boone, LMT, instructor of kinesiology and ethics at the Lexington Healing Arts Academy in Lexington, Kentucky, says that a runner and a hurdler have very different massage issues.

Three methods, all of which are essential to Swedish massage, provide a good starting point

Effleurage is a sequence of massage strokes that warm up the muscles before deeper work. It is a French term that means “to skim” or “to brush lightly.” The therapist can feel and palpate underlying tissues with the long, steady strokes. The procedure can also be used at the end of a sports massage to bring the treatment to a close progressively.
Petrissage, derived from another French word meaning “to knead,” kneads muscles and fascia with steady, rhythmic motions. The effect aids in muscle stretching and relaxation while also increasing local blood circulation. Petrissage has been shown to help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), boost muscle performance, and speed recovery from muscle stiffness in studies. Tapotement is characterised by fast, rhythmic, percussion-like hand movements. It comes from the French and means “to tap or pat.” Tapotement is used at the end of a massage session to help the athlete return to a more grounded state of consciousness.

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Preparing for a Break

For many athletes, the off-season is a time to improve their results by intensive preparation and exercise. Often the big picture is the goal, such as a faster recovery time, increased endurance, increased control, increased strength, reduced injury risks, or improved flexibility. Other times, the athlete wishes to treat a particular chronic problem, such as hip imbalance, chronic pain, muscle stiffness, or scar mobility.
Here’s what we know about helping an athlete train for the gold, based on research and what sports massage therapists have heard from clients.
Athletes can be forced outside of their comfort zone during off-season preparation. Stretching beyond an athlete’s regular game plan may result in sore or fatigued muscles that aren’t normally put to the test during peak competition season. According to Boone, this necessitates heightened sensitivity on the part of the massage therapist.
However, pre-season practises can include new training disciplines that result in unforeseen aches and imbalances. As a consequence, the massage therapist can need to change during training season.” Consider a professional football player who goes to ballet lessons in the off-season to develop his coordination, endurance, body awareness, and pacing. After five hours at the barre, a typical massage for an offensive tackle may not be appropriate.
Off-season workouts, contrary to common opinion, can be more physically demanding than in-season practises. Athletes often drive themselves further in training and challenge their limits. All of this excessive exercise can lead to skeletal muscle injury. In such cases, sports massage therapy tends to be clinically effective, decreasing inflammation and encouraging mitochondrial biogenesis. 
The training season is perfect for reversing harmful muscle memory. Using the same muscles in a particular discipline over and over again trains them to move in a specific direction. Even if it requires irregular movements, muscle memory can often be left alone. (Consider Hank Aaron’s unusual cross-handed batting style.)
Muscle memory can also be used as an impediment by a coach or personal trainer, stopping an athlete from achieving their full potential. According to Gretchen Dizer, LMT, BFA, MA, owner of Healing Pointe Massage in Niskayuna, New York, the massage therapist may be able to help recalibrate muscle memory in this situation. “Redistribution of fluid and alignment of soft tissue with structural components of the body can be achieved by working directly with restrictions visible in fascial planes. This aids overall balance in order to maintain optimum athletic performance.”
Become an expert in the sport of our client. Knowing anatomy is a good start, but there’s more, according to David Abbott, LMT, licenced neuromuscular therapist, trained sports massage therapist, and owner of Core Massage, LLC in Colorado Springs. “It would be difficult to relate to the sport’s players, coaches, personal trainers, and doctors if, for example, a football player comes to you as a client but you’ve never played on or followed a football team,” Abbott says. In other words, a golfer’s massage therapy methods and tactics can vary from a gymnast’s, and the massage therapist must understand why.
Be prepared to practise with an athlete for the entire season. Jen Patterson, LMT, BS, owner of Massage 4 Wellness in Lexington, Kentucky, and massage director of the Kentucky Sports Massage Team and the Ironman Louisville Massage Team, says, “With practise, you get to know an athlete’s body and learn how it responds to such fitness exercises.” “So, if an athlete says their hamstring did this ‘funny thing,’ you’ll immediately know where to go and which muscle in the hamstring community to deal with over time.”
There’s more time to play with massage treatments during the off-season. “Assume you’re working with a runner and the aim is to lengthen, shorten, or stabilise hip muscles. You have time to experiment with various clinical combinations and then ask the athlete whether the massage technique improved or not,” Patterson says. “Perhaps your massage method was excessive or insufficient. You have time to adjust your strategy and be inventive.”
Adjustments made before the start of the season allow the athlete time to adjust. Even if massage therapy assists in the achievement of a target, such as improved range of motion or a more effective stance, the athlete will need time to adapt to the transition, according to Abbott. “Anything that has an effect on an athlete’s success can start months before the peak season.”