The standard reasoning goes like this: Should I spend $60 for a one-hour massage, or buy a new derailleur that will last the rest of the season?
Guess what choice most people make?
When you add up the list of expenses in bike racing parts, team jerseys, race fees, gas money, big post-race meals, etc. its tempting, and easy, to leave massage for the tail end of your budget. But thats a mistake.
The ideal situation is to have massage every day all year round, suggests former U.S. Cycling Team Coach Eddie Borysewicz in his definitive training book Bicycle Road Racing. Ideal, but not too practical especially if you have to pay for a masseur.
Heres the solution: Dont pay for massage, do it yourself. That way you can have a massage whenever you need it.
As little as three to four minutes per day on each leg will relax the muscles and help them recover. This can make a big difference in the amount of benefit you get from training, says Borysewicz, who introduced modern European training methods to U.S. professional cycling in the early 1980s.
You dont want to rub road grime into your skin, so start with a shower. Use a natural massage cream or lotion that wont clog your skin pores, available at natural food or health stores. Consider a lotion that includes Arnaca extract, a natural anti-inflammatory. Olive oil will work, but be forewarned: if you have pets theyll want to lick your legs.
First, put your legs up (lie on your back and rest your legs at 90 degrees against a wall) to let the lactic-acid laced blood drain for about 15 minutes, until your feet are starting to tingle. This gives you a head start on flushing the muscles and makes the massage more effective.
For cyclists, the most common muscles requiring massage are the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and buttocks. (The one important place you cant effectively massage is your lower back; let your masseuse work on that).
Rule number one is to always massage toward the heart. Start lightly with gentle pressure, and gradually work deeper as your muscles loosen. Massage in the natural flow, or direction, of the muscle fibers (A cross-fiber motion is harder on your muscles and should only be used if your muscles are very loose.)
For extra pressure, grasp your leg with both hands and use your cocked fingers to plow the length of the muscle. Or make a fist and push down on the knuckles with your free hand. A two-inch rubber ball also is a good massage tool, especially for your butt. Sit on the ball and roll around on it to work muscles that are hard to reach by hand.
With self-massage, you always know exactly which muscles are inflamed and need attention. Feel for the telltale knot or crossed fiber in the muscle and gently palpitate the area. If the knot is particularly big use firm, direct pressure against the cramped area and hold for up to 30 seconds.
Try closing your eyes, like Fausto Coppis blind masseuse Biagio Cavanna, and work your muscles by feel youll realize that you can see the muscles through touch.
Above all, go with the feel of your muscles. If the motion that youre doing feels good, continue. If not, try something different. Ultimately, any massage you do will help, as long as it isnt painful.
When youre done with your massage, do a light stretch to set the muscles back in their natural position. If you have time, icing helps to increase the blood circulation, bringing fresh, lactic acid-free blood rushing back to your muscles (the blood returns to muscles after you remove the cold). Remember that massage in itself can be a workout for your muscles, so dont plan to ride hard after a massage. Save your legs for the next day youll be able to push them to their limit and feel good doing it.