For many cyclists, the months between October and March are used for long, easy base miles and gym sessions in an attempt to build a stronger core in preparation for the coming summer season. Putting in the miles and building up strength are both great things to do - but the resulting achey muscles can be a bit annoying.
Inflammation as a result of exercise is a sign that your body is adapting to the work you've been putting in - it's a good thing. The painful side effects can be a bit annoying, though - and you can limit them through massage which encourages blood flow to the damaged muscles. Blood carries with it oxygen and nutrients that your body needs to repair itself, and grow stronger.
Of course, the pro cyclists of the world can often get regular massages - but most of us aren't that lucky. Thankfully, there are a number of home massage tools available to help you out.
Foam rollers are long, cylindrical massage tools that you roll your body over, using your own weight to
inflict provide the pressure. There are various different styles - some come with dimples, ridges or other textured surfaces to aid the massage, and some are made of firmer foam than others - but you can get a good one from about £20.
Foam rollers are excellent for targeting large muscles or muscle groups - the IT band, back and shoulders and calves. Using a foam roller can be a bit painful if your muscles are tight, but if you're dedicated and use one for ten minutes a day, it'll become much more comfortable.
There are many different 'massage stick' options available - 'The Stick' is the one that springs to mind first, but there are more brands out there, some of them rather less expensive.
Though the shape and style will vary, most 'sticks' will have plastic rolling beads that move as you knead over your body. A bit like working dough with a rolling pin. These are great for massaging areas that are tougher to place weight on with the foam roller - your shins and upper arms for example.
The only downside to massage sticks is that you provide the pressure by pushing down onto your muscles with your arms. If you're feeling lazy that's a bit annoying - it takes a little more effort than rolling - but it does mean you can control the amount of pressure.
Tennis ball/hockey ball/lacrosse ball
If you've not tried a tennis ball massage, you are missing out!
Tennis balls (or hockey balls/lacrosse balls if you are truly a glutton for punishment) are incredible at getting into small knots in hard to reach places. They're great for:
- Shoulders - place the ball on a wall and lean against it. This will look weird, just accept it and make sure there are no cameras around
- Backs - ball on the floor, as above
- Feet - ball on the floor, roll your foot over it - more effective when standing as more body weight placed on the ball
- Piriformis - probably the absolute best use for a cyclist. When this muscle (deep in the glutes) gets tight it can cause the sciatic nerve to become compressed, causing pain down your entire leg. To loosen it, sit on the ball and roll gently over it until you find a pressure spot. Stay in the same position for a minute or so. Be careful not to overdo this one.
Ice bottle massage
This has got to be the least expensive option on the list, and it's incredibly effective. Simply fill a plastic bottle with water, leaving a little space for expansion. Place it in the freezer, and take it out the next day. The result is a cylindrical object you can roll over - like a mini foam roller!
The ice means that you also get the added benefits of cooling therapy.
There's a lot of debate over icing vs heating of inflamed tissue. Most experts will tell you that ice is best used to treat a new injury - it dulls the pain and helps to reduce inflammation. So it's ideal if you've done a hard workout that has caused micro tears in muscle fibre (the natural process that takes place after a hard workout, when the tears heal the muscle becomes stronger). This method is best used 24-48 hours into the recovery process, or if you've strained or injured a muscle - after that and you're better of opting for heat sources such as a lovely cosy hot water bottle.
Just want to relax, and not have to put any effort into the massage yourself?
There are some great electric options available that can provide a really incredible de-stressing treatment. Massage cushions gently smooth away at your shoulders and lower back. They can't provide targeted trigger point massage like a tennis ball or icey bottle, but regular gentle massage can help keep your muscles loose so that you're less likely to need to really dig in there and attack the knots.
You can pick up a massage cushion from about £20, strap it to your office chair, and away you go!
Erm - what now?!
The Back Nodger was designed by Performance Physiotherapist Jonathan Lewis, and it's effectively a bent stick with a 'nodge head' that works on trigger points once you found them.
You can pick one up for about £30, check it out at Boots.com here.
Massage is just one part of recovery - stretching, drinking lots and getting plenty of protein down the hatch are all important too. You might also like...