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The Fitness Zone

A Runner’s Guide to Massage
August 28, 2018

By: Catrin Jonsson, NSW Australian Institute of Fitness Massage Coach

Running is a great way to stay fit and have fun either alone or as part of a group. Trail running and swim-runs have emerged as the latest craze to sweep the world with more and more people challenging themselves in these events along with the more classic fun runs. Whatever your discipline, if you work hard your muscles will too!

With longer distance races it is easy to see that the training a runner has to put in can cause;

  1. tightness in muscles;
  2. wear and tear on tendons and ligaments; and
  3. overload of the connective tissue that supports our musculoskeletal system.

Often these changes will have one common characteristic…..PAIN!!

Massage to the Rescue

Massage therapy can be a very useful adjunct to a runner’s regime no matter what level they are at. Regular massage treatments during the training phase can be a great way to maintain optimal soft tissue (muscle/tendon/ligament) health.

According to Greg Lehman (Canadian researcher, physiotherapist and sports and conditioning specialist), one of the great benefits of massage for runners, and indeed athletes as a whole, is pain relief. Pain free athletes can train sooner after a race and it is a fact that one of the main indicators for successfully reaching performance goals is the ability to remain injury (pain) free.

Before the race

It is important to understand that massage should never replace adequate warm-up and preparation before a run/race, but can be a part of it. Ideally, the pre-event massage should be administered close to the event to be most effective. Somewhere between 60 to 30-min out from the start is a good marker. At this time the runner can enjoy the benefit of;

  1. conserving energy while muscles and fascia are being stretched;  
  2. zone-in and focus on the upcoming race; and
  3. settle any pre-race nerves.

After the race

According to some experts, the best time to have a massage is not actually directly after the race as previously believed.

If the body is fatigued from a long and arduous race it is best to let the initial muscle recovery take place and schedule the massage for 48 to 72-hrs after the completion of the race, especially if you are partial to a deeper massage.

Studies looking at the effects of massage specifically for running have indicated that massage can help reduce pain and muscle fatigue in marathon runners, particularly straight after the race, but is less likely to improve performance times.

Which muscles should get massage?

It is easy to understand that massaging the leg muscles is a must for runners, but to get the best out of your massage treatment it would be wise to also include the back muscles  

(erector spinae and QL particularly) and the muscles that are responsible for hip movement

(glutes, piriformis and the deep rotators). A good massage therapist will use techniques that both lengthen and broaden the muscle fibres, some neuromuscular techniques to normalise tension in the muscles and some myofascial release techniques to address restrictions in the connective tissue/myofascia.

Australian Institute of Fitness Massage Warriors (aka graduates) have training in sports massage and athletic injury management and many of our graduates are themselves avid runners.

If you are interested in learning more about massage therapy or would love to become qualified in massage, check out The Institute’s range of industry-leading massage programs here. 


Amanda M. Heapy, Martin D. Hoffman, Heidie H. Verhagen, Samuel W. Thompson, Pavitra Dhamija, Fiona J. Sandford & Mary C. Cooper (2018) A randomized controlled trial of manual therapy and pneumatic compression for recovery from prolonged running – an extended study, Research in Sports Medicine, 26:3, 354-364, DOI: 10.1080/15438627.2018.1447469

Greg Lehman

Strength Running

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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