Is it Better to Get a Massage Before or After a Workout?
Our answer: do both.
We’ve all felt the achy, stiff, can-barely-move effects of a tough workout. And while unpleasant, soreness is often a great indicator that we’ve pushed ourselves to be better. When muscles are worked during, say, a boxing class, WOD, or HIIT circuit, tiny, microscopic tears occur in our muscle tissue, which is what causes the soreness we feel in the hours and days after a workout. And when these tiny tears are repaired by the body, muscles grow stronger. So, in many ways, we know that soreness can be a good thing, but that doesn’t mean you want to limp around in pain for any longer than you have to.
While the right workout gear and sneakers can help limit how achy you feel during and after a workout, a massage can take your recovery to the next level. Because really…is there anything better than a nice rubdown to ease sore, achy muscles? But, this begs the question: Is it best to get a massage before or after you exercise? On the one hand, a pre-workout massage will loosen you up before you put your body to the test again, but a post-workout massage will certainly aid in your recovery. So which one is it? A massage before a workout to stretch out those knots, or after when your whole body is tightening up? The answer: It depends. Pre- and post-workout massages provide their own unique benefits. Read on to see which massage you should schedule next.
Best for: Warming up your muscles and loosening up tight spots and knots
Best types: relaxation, aromatherapy, or Ayurvedic massage
When to do it: A quick 30-minute massage right before your workout will do the trick.
Why it works: A gentle pre-workout massage can help loosen tight muscles, increase flexibility, and decrease the risk of injury before you exercise. Just don’t go for anything too intense. A deep tissue massage, for instance, might feel good in the moment but it’ll leave your muscles too raw and sore before a workout, which may increase the risk of muscle strain or injury. And the benefits of a pre-workout massage go beyond just what they do for your muscles. If you’re prepping for a big race or event, like a marathon, triathlon, or endurance challenge (like a Spartan race), a massage can help clear your head and work off those anxiety-induced jitters before you get to the starting line. Plus, the endorphins that are released during a massage will put you in a good mood, making the workout you’re about to embark on that much more enjoyable.
Best for: Bouncing back from soreness faster
Best types: Deep tissue or sports massage
When to do it: For the best results, according to one study, aim for an hour to 30-minute massage no more than two hours after a workout
Why it works: Most of us have always been taught that it’s a good idea to stretch after a strenuous workout to limit soreness that’s most likely to set in 12 to 24 hours after the workout is complete (this is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS). But that’s not all we can do to limit how achy and stiff we feel in the days after trying a new exercise routine or turning up the intensity on a circuit at the gym. This is where a post-workout massage comes in.
While most people think of a massage as a treat every once in a while, it’s also something you should consider getting done regularly if you’re engaging in multiple high-intensity workouts a week. Research shows that a good rubdown after a workout can help treat muscle fatigue, speed up post-workout recovery, reduce stiffness, and increase muscle blood flow. And if you’ve ever tried a new workout and felt sore days later (think back to your very first WOD…ouch), massage can help with that too. One study found that when subjects tried a new exercise (in this case, walking up and down five flights of stairs 20 times), a post-workout massage significantly reduced pain brought on by DOMS. Need more convincing? A 2018 report looked at the most common post-workout recovery activities, including massage, stretching, active recovery, cryotherapy, hyperbaric treatment, and electrostimulation, and found that post-workout massages outperformed all other recovery activities in reducing soreness.