Rub Out Sore Legs With Massage

A Health Net rider receives a massage before the start of Stage 3 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.

Of all the tools that make up successful bike racers, one of the most important is often overlooked, and it doesn't come in a bike catalog.

Massage is one of the few topics in cycling that hasn't been worked to death by popular magazines and press, which is ironic, considering that massage is one of the earliest recorded forms of physical therapy and has been used by different cultures for 3,000 years.

Perhaps that's why relatively few amateur racers seek out regular massage as a part of their training regimen. Which is a mistake, because regular massage is nearly as important as riding for a competitive cyclist.

Everyone knows the feeling: You're a few hours removed from a hard ride or race, or maybe you're in the middle of a stage race; when you stand up you've got a pair of wooden stilts instead of healthy, strong cycling legs.

Or maybe your legs feel like they're brimming with burning acid, good for macho "I rode soooo hard, and soooo long" stories, but not for when you have to get back on your bike.

Lactic acid--the metabolic waste product produced by your body when you exercise hard--pools in the muscles, giving them a dead leg feel.

Although lactic acid is naturally removed through blood circulation, it can take up to several days to leave your system depending on how fit you are.

Massage is the answer. By increasing blood circulation through massage, the acid is flushed out of tired or strained muscles much faster than your body could under its own power, equating to faster recovery and better performance. Joe Friel, noted author of The Cyclist's Training Bible, highly recommends using massage as a recovery technique.

This is critical when stage racing and can mean the difference between finishing well in subsequent stages and failing to finish at all.

Even if you're not racing, massage two or three sessions per month. If you're training regularly it becomes an essential part of maintaining flexibility and keeping muscles healthy.

You'll be amazed at how spry and jumpy you feel the day after a massage, compared to riding through the ache of tired legs.

Massage is an especially valuable tool for relieving painful muscle cramps and overcoming soft-tissue injuries--such as tendonitis--by helping to reduce swelling in an overtaxed muscle by straightening muscle fibers that have been knotted.

Picture a bundle of thick climbing ropes laying out in a line, with several crossing and looping over the others. What massage can do (and basic stretching can't) is pull the wayward strands of rope back into a neat line; this is the concept that a masseuse uses when working on a damaged muscle.

A good masseuse has the touch, which gives them the uncanny ability to seek out just the right strand of muscle that needs attention.

A great example is legendary Italian bike racer Fausto Coppi's personal masseur Biagio Cavanna, who was blind.

He could see the muscles through his hands, locating tight areas by touch and feel. Many professional riders, such as Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, hired their own personal masseuses (known as seigneurs) to travel with them to every race.

When you look for your own masseuse, it's a good idea to ask around for a recommendation.

Look for a therapist who focuses on athletes, preferably cyclists. It also helps to visit the same masseuse often so they can get to know the idiosyncrasies of your muscles, which will allow them to do a better job of identifying problem areas.

But make sure you're comfortable with the masseuse; you definitely want to feel calm and relaxed during the massage.

The standard rate for a massage is about $60 an hour. For an affordable option, look to massage schools, which always have students who need to practice on subjects.

Students typically don't charge as much, and although they aren't always as experienced, sometimes the trade-off is worth the savings.

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