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How did massage help Adam with his strength training?

As one of the UK’s leading London physiotherapists, I regularly write about injuries, treatment and assessment techniques.

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Adam is a young City professional, who trains 4 times a week, including twice a week with a personal trainer. In the winter he trains for strength — but in the spring/summer, he trains for hypertrophy to ensure he’s buff for the beach! This year, while he wasn’t carrying any injuries, he noticed that he wasn’t putting on muscle as quickly as he had in the past; so his savvy trainer suggested that he add a weekly sports massage to his programme. 

Hypertrophy — an increase in muscle size — comes from lifting big, heavy weights. The bigger the weights you can lift, the more effectively you can load your body — and thus the faster and more efficiently your muscles grow. However, it’s not just your training that helps you pack on the muscle: it’s also the quality of your recovery. It’s thought that the muscles grow because you create tiny tears in the fibres when you lift heavy weights; and that the growth occurs when your body responds to repair those tears.

Our therapist noticed that Adam had very tight hamstrings, a consequence of years of athletics and football with little stretching; and also some muscle imbalance around his hips. Great flexibility and control of the hip area is essential to lift heavy weights efficiently, and that this would therefore affect Adam’s ability to pack on muscle mass. She therefore focused her treatment around this area, massaging and stretching the hamstrings, hip flexors and lower back, which in turn helped Adam and his trainer to restore an efficient muscle firing pattern to his glutes and hamstrings.

Results

After 12 weeks of massage and no other changes to his training, Adam had added 15kg to both his squat and deadlift, and was able to perform both exercises over a greater range, with faster recovery. This meant that he was able to train considerably harder during each session — and thus made much bigger gains in both strength and muscle mass. He also noticed that his night cramps, and his post-workout aches and pains, were significantly reduced.

How can this help you?

Well… if you’re training, what are your goals this year? If you’d like to pack on muscle faster, you need to think about quality recovery as well as training. As a rule of thumb, I tend to suggest that an hour’s massage every 5–8 training sessions is adequate for recovery — but of course, the faster and greater the gains you want to make, and the harder you’re working your body to achieve it, the more support you’re likely to need. 

 

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