General recommendations for working out after a massage include waiting 24 hours for moderate to strenuous exercise, heavy lifting, sprinting/running, high-intensity workouts (MassageTherapy.com- Bishop). Until that 24 hours has passed, light movement such as walking and swimming are advised, with most therapists highly recommending a warm Epsom salt bath to help flush out released toxins and decrease soreness. These are all great recommendations, but HOW do we maximize our first workout after we have received deep tissue work to integrate those new changes into our body? Assuming we are trying to make the changes last as long as possible, whether it’s increased range of motion, decreased tension, less knots/adhesions, it’s safe to say that maintaining a new level of neuromyofascial balance is a worthy goal.
Multiple factors will come into play when designing a post-massage workout. Body type- are you hypomobile or hypermobile? Current level of fitness- sedentary or peak performer? Type of exercise or sport currently involved in- do you consider yourself a runner, weight lifter, or triathlete? Part of the puzzle is going to direct us toward training in ranges that we use during our given sport. For example, if you’re a cyclist then training your legs and hips in ranges you use on the bike will seem useful and specific. However, humans were designed to walk, run, swim, lift, and move through multiple ranges that promote equal balance between myofascial structures. Designing a workout that takes the body through these natural ranges (squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, rotating, etc), AND emphasizes weak points (strengthening rotator cuff is it’s been an issue in the past, stretching anterior chest and deltoids if posture and shoulder movement has caused problems), AND promotes sensorimotor feedback (balance, coordination, and whole-body muscle activation in response to changes sensed in the environment) can be challenging to fully comprehend and structure. Let’s look at an example:
Say our client runs 4x a week and cross-trains with yoga 2x a week. They lack range of motion in their ankles, which immediately shows when they try to squat. They also lack range in their hips and thoracic spine, which again shows up in their squat. During their massage, they get deep tissue work on their calves, quads, chest, anterior delts, and entire back and neck. Maybe some stretches were involved, but how does this person take full advantage of the changes that were made? Take some time to hydrate and walk around. Maybe you feel like walking for 5-10 minutes at a light pace. Try a few slow bodyweight squats and see if you can gain more depth and range in your ankles and hips while maintaining an erect spine. Stay aware of any changes you feel. Use this valuable time window for your body to integrate new changes into functional movement patterns and help them become more permanent. Wait 16-24 hours then try out a similar structured routine to see how you feel:
Warm-up: moderate intensity 5-15 minutes
Dynamic Warm-ups: 5-10 minutes
Sensorimotor Training: Indo Board balance and squatting, Wobble board double and single leg balance, dyna disc or balance pad single leg stance and squat 5-10 minutes alternating legs
Focused muscle activation for weak points: RTC cable/band work, lower trap, inner thighs, tibialis posterior/arch strengthening, etc. This is a chance to focus on strengthening the new ranges that were opened-up during the massage, but without over-working them. Stop before the muscle becomes fully fatigued. Multiple low-to-moderate sets will prove more valuable here.
Functional Training: Any combination of full-range of motion squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, rotating, crawling, etc, but only if these have been a regular part of your training. Starting these movements may be too much if they haven’t been practiced for awhile.
Stretch: Test out your new ranges and think about mild intensity, listening to how your body feels.
This is only meant to serve as a template and not a complete workout for everyone. Warming up and stretching may be enough for some, whereas more focus on functional training more beneficial for another. It’s meant to spike interest in other ways of training the body, especially with often overlooked weak points that can limit our performance potential. Note how you feel after a trying out this routine, so you’re ready to make any necessary changes after your next massage.