Is rest better for recovery than massage after exercising

For years many ‘experts’ in the field of personal training have advocated massage as a means of enhancing resistance exercise performance. The logic behind the argument was that massage aided efficient and effective recovery by improving circulation and lymphatic drainage. So massage therapy became a kind of gold standard. However, various studies published over the last 4 years have questioned this so-called gold standard, and have caused personal trainers to rethink some of their preconceptions. One study in particular in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; (2008; 22 [2], 575–82) had a profound impact on personal training by suggesting that rest probably offers greater benefits than massage.

Researchers studied 30 experienced weight trainers, each of whom performed three workouts. The exercises were the same in each workout, but the intervention between sets was different each time. The three interventions were 1 minute of rest standing upright; 30 seconds of rest standing upright; and 30 seconds of massage with the exercised muscle group elevated.

Following warm-up, the participants performed as many repetitions as possible of the following exercises: the 45-degree leg press, prone leg curl, seated shoulder press and standing barbell curl. After each set, the exercisers followed their assigned protocol for recovery. This process continued for several sets. At the end of the study, researchers determined that it was the rest period duration that had the greatest impact on resistance exercise performance. The researchers found that the 1-minute rest proved most effective for each of the exercises undertaken. Massage intervention, although useful, was nowhere near as effective in aiding recovery.

So why did massage not prove to be as effective? The truth is the authors of the report couldn’t really say with any sort of conviction. They suggested that blood flow diverted from muscle to skin and inadequate lactate removal were possible impediments to recovery. The researchers also found that massage “does not aid recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage, delayed-onset muscle soreness or strength retention after bouts of anaerobic or eccentric actions.” In the report’s conclusion the authors suggested that anyone looking to improve muscular performance should use rest periods as the primary method of recovery, claiming:

“Those who seek improved resistance exercise performance should pay particular attention to the duration of rest periods, as longer rests permit greater recovery and allow performance of more repetitions.”

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